A recent run of referee injuries has drawn attention to the NHL’s options when it comes to back-up officials.  In the playoffs, each game is assigned one standby official. In the Cup Finals, a referee and linesmen are both ready on standby in case of injury or illness. 

For the most part, NHL officials are not interchangeable when it comes to those with the orange armbands and those without.

While officials often grow up working both sides of the whistle, they fall into one role as their careers progress. Referees work their way up as referees; linesmen work their way up as linesmen. Certainly, the physical attributes play a factor.  While size may not be as great of an issue for referees as skating, greater strength and a larger frame greatly benefit linesmen, who are charged with breaking up fights and physically restraining players.

Of the current 78-man NHL officiating roster, only five have worked NHL games as both referees and linesmen.  Referee Dan O’Rourke spent 120 games manning the lines.  Linesmen Shane Heyer (386 games as referee), Jay Sharrers (136), Brian Murphy (88), and Trent Knorr (2) have all worked games as NHL refs. 

When one official goes down with an injury, argues Paul Stewart, the best solution is a cross-trained official. 


From Stewart’s column over at Hockey Buzz:

In today’s game, I think the NHL should implement a different protocol for handling situations where one referee gets injured. Rather than having one referee work with two linesmen, I think it makes more sense to have the senior linesman serve as the second referee and proceed with one linesman.

Personally, I would like to see officials get cross-trained: in other words, being trained to switch roles when necessary. During my own officiating career, I filled in for injured linesmen on an emergency basis a couple of times — including in a 1997 Stanley Cup playoff game between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia when Wayne Bonney suffered a leg injury in the second period. I had been the stand-by referee for the game. I filled in adequately, but it was certainly not my forte.

In similar fashion, a linesmen should be able to function as a “referee-in-training” when an extra set of legs and eyes are needed. A savvy linesman is capable of being a referee in a pinch, and it would have been more beneficial to the flow of the game (apart from making the night a little easier on the ref — especially an inexperienced one) if the protocol had been to function as a two-ref, one-linesman team after the partner referee was lost for the game.

It’d be a nice option to have, even if the skill-sets differ.  Obviously, to implement this type of cross-training, you’d want to give those officials a rotation in the other role just to keep the skills fresh. You’d also have to expect a knowledge gap for the guys making the jump across. 

It happens at lower levels.  It’d be nice to see it – even as a consideration – at the higher ones.