By Mark Lichtenfeld. Originally published at LetsPlayHockey.com:
OS is all about exposing the gritty truth and on-ice scenarios encountered by us veterans officiating trench warfare contests – otherwise known as amateur hockey games. And, in fact, any column exposing the lack of respect doled out to veteran zebras always gets the most reaction from Let’s Play Hockey readers.
Look, us veterans expect a minimal level of respect from players, coaches, parents, rink managers and associations. That means civil discourse when questioning a call. Or setting a positive example when hiring on as head coach. (Tip: Read John Russo’s column in last week’s LPH).
For parents, it means setting realistic expectations about Junior’s skills before bad-mouthing an official. And for rink managers, a heated, sanitized changing room is a prerequisite if you want the refs to move the nets for the Zamboni driver.
But for associations, respect starts with giving out some meaningful games.
Now, the absolute biggest complaint I have received from other officials over the past quarter-century has been the inability to get decent games. They claim it’s an old-boys’ network and they can’t break through. Unless of course, there is a 600-game tournament coming into town. Suddenly, they say, there are higher-level games available.
You want the pulse of veteran guys from a Midwest district? Listen to this tale of woe from a 54-year-old veteran Level 3 in his 12th year:
I’m a hard-working Level 3 official who cares about doing a great job, and it bugs the hell out of me when young guys who couldn’t care less about the game get assigned doubles and triple high school games just because they are young. What about mid-50 guys that love the game and hustle their ass off? I can’t even get a line spot in a high school game. I e-mail the assignors and never hear back. And then in the locker room, I’m constantly greeted by young guys that complain about high school games, saying the games are boring and they just want to see the kids beat the crap out of each other, rather than call a thoughtful game.
The pain. The emotional misery. I couldn’t stop thinking about this over Thanksgiving weekend when the Silver Sticks Midget AA tournament came into town. Silver Sticks is a serious tournament featuring good, hard-hitting hockey, provided by some of the top AA talent west of the Colorado River. Yeah, a lot faster than the Tuesday night “C” league.
The Silver Sticks games were scheduled as a three-ref system. That’s one ref and a pair of linesmen (the way hockey was meant to be officiated). Our assigner scheduled veteran Level 3 crews for three straight games – two games on the line and one game with the bands, per official. Easy. Simple. That’s what I like about this association.
Now, compare this to another association that I am quite familiar with. You want to be the referee in a three-man AA game? Forget it. You want to arm-band a high school game? Better make a specific request and hire both a Michigan Avenue PR firm and a Washington D.C., lobbyist to get the assignment.
I know what you’re thinking. “Look, Mr. OS, you are too old to be the middle guy in a AA game anyway. Know your limitations. Request a low-level high school game.”
Exactly. Until I was 50, I would be given one of these assignments per month during the high school season. Which was fine. I mean even NHL refs don’t skate up and down the ice anymore. Trust me, after many of these games it was all I could do to make the 7:45 express downtown the next morning.
And then, suddenly, those ref slots were nowhere to be had. You would check the schedule and the association had literally pre-assigned young guys to band extremely low-level high school games. When I inquired about this, I received the standard answer: “We are trying to develop our younger refs.”
Translation: “We don’t respect you veteran guys.”
Now, developing young guys is certainly important. But the bread-and-butter of game coverage is your staple of veteran Level 3s. And with thousands of AA and AAA games available during the season, an association does not need to hire out young whippersnappers for “Tier 32 double-club” high school games which are really Bantam house-level games in township high school disguise.
Let me analyze it differently. There are your basic veteran Level 3s who are more than content to work the lines, collect their pay, and go home. Fine.
And then there are guys that would love the challenge of banding a game. I mean, it’s a whole different world when you are the sole referee. It’s invigorating. Nerve-wracking. A ton of responsibility. Suddenly, guys don’t recognize you. You start calling penalties you would never whistle in a men’s game. You hustle harder than ever. You sweat profusely.
That’s because the game’s on you.
All of a sudden, officiating’s no longer a bore. Even if you band one game out of every 30 assignments, you feel like the association trusts you. And you become a better official for it.
Yup. I was thinking about all of this when my Thanksgiving schedule showed up in the inbox. Three vets. One guy in his late 20’s, one about 45 and the other even a decade older.
No problem. Each guy wears the bands. That’s how it’s done here.
But not there. There, the association double-bands a young guy before giving an aged vet the orange in a 1-2 system. I’ve seen it in three-game assignments all the time.
Last I checked, there was no FAA “over 50” rule in amateur hockey officiating.
So why can’t those associations call the veteran and ask him or her if they would like the bands? Why would any association assignors give a young guy the ref slot for both games of a doubleheader? It’s an affront to the other guys.
And a total lack of respect.
Like I said, the association I currently work for understands what respect is all about. I’m sure this goes for other associations around the country, too.
But for those associations that don’t value their vets, I hope this column is a wake-up call.
Likewise, for those vets who have never considered arm-banding a game, try it.
It will change your entire outlook on officiating.
All you need is the chance.
Follow Officially Speaking on Twitter (@OSpeaking).
Officially Speaking is originally published at LetsPlayHockey.com –
The online home of the longest-running hockey newspaper in the United States.
Reprinted with permission.