Referee Furman South is going into his fourth season as a National Hockey League referee. The Pennsylvania native has officiated 43 NHL games, with the bulk of his time spent patrolling the rinks in the AHL for the past few seasons.

South, a 2012 graduate of Robert Morris University, recently caught up with RMU’s Matt Gajtka to talk about the upcoming season and life as one of the NHL’s men in stripes.



On preparing for the season as an official:

“It’s similar in a lot of ways [to training as a player]. My workout regimen is pretty similar to what we did when I was playing [at RMU].  Fitness is an important part of the job these days. The game just gets faster and faster every year and if the officials can’t keep up with the game, we don’t have a good game out there.”

“Staying fit is important part of the job and something I take very seriously. You’ve got to be ready for the start of the season because nobody’s going to give the officials any excuses out there. If you’re not ready to go, that’s that’s on you.”

On transitioning from player to official:

“It was kind of a gradual thing. I played four years [at RMU], I graduated, and then all of a sudden I was done with hockey. It was a weird time because I grew up playing my whole life. I was always part of a team and I chose not to actively pursue playing professionally, which was kind of in the back of my head after a couple years – something I kind of regretted, to be honest.”

“I knew I wanted to stay involved [with hockey] somehow.  I got involved with coaching for a couple years there. It was fun – it was different – but not exactly the same as being out there on the ice, so I decided to give officiating a try.  I got some good opportunities and it worked out well. It was a good way to to stay active on the ice, stay part of the game, be part of a team, and go out there and compete just like the players do.”

On the NHL recruiting former players for officiating:

“They’re definitely looking to get more more ex-players into [officiating], more guys who played high-level hockey. The guys who play at that level have something that cant necessarily be taught in terms of IQ, feel for the game, and things like that. That’s definitely something they’re trying to do and it was a big part of the reason that I got the chances that I got and chose to pursue [officiating] the way that I did.”

On his NHL regular season debut on April 6, 2017, in Phoenix, which he made alongside fellow referee Francois St. Laurent and linesmen Darren Gibbs and Trent Knorr:

“It was an unbelievable experience. It’s kind of hard to put into words. I had done preseason games before but it’s not the same – not the same intensity, not the same build up. Just being out there on the ice for an NHL game was something I always dreamed about, not necessarily wearing a striped jersey.  But just to be out there on the ice with with some of the best players in the world was something I’ll never forget.”

“The first game is a special day. It goes fast and it only happens once. You try to take in as much as you can but, like I said, it’s hard to put into words. Just an unbelievable experience and unbelievable day.”

On managing personalities on the ice and handling coaches and players:

“It’s definitely a challenge. In my opinion, that’s the biggest part of this job. Anybody can really go out there and call some penalties but learning how to harness emotion, deal with personalities, and get to know players and coaches and know how to deal with them and interact with them — it’s a feeling out process. Something that you develop [and] have to learn, and it’s still something that I work on.”

“I have under 50 NHL games so I’m still trying to learn players’ personalities, coaches’ personalities, who I can trust, who I can’t trust, who I can talk to… that’s something that the best referees have mastered. That’s what goes into controlling a game is knowing emotion, knowing personalities, and and how to deal with them.”

On reviewing video of games – and penalty calls:

“During the season I’ll go back and watch – not necessarily the whole game but parts of my games. If something weird happens, I’ll go back and watch that. We have video systems where we’re able to go back and watch all the penalties we call and all the ‘maybe-penalties’ we miss. It’s a good tool to be able to to learn, evaluate, and improve but at the same time it’s not something that I necessarily do all the time. I don’t want to beat myself up over if I make a bad call or miss a call because that’s almost counterproductive, but video is a good tool to a certain extent and I do use it to review certain things.”

On any funny or memorable moments on the ice:

“A game that I had in St. Louis this year – I think it was St Louis and Florida Panthers. It was the first period and my partner was skating backwards into the zone as the play was coming at him. One of the St. Louis players dumped it in the zone. It actually hit my partner in the stomach area as he’s in the corner, ricocheted into the front of the net, hit off the back of Roberto Luongo’s leg, and ended up in the back of the net. So we have this weird goal where it ricochets off the referee in the corner. We’re in St. Louis, so the crowd is going nuts, and not only do we have the weird goal but my partner was hurt.”

“According to the rules, that goal can’t count. If it deflects off an official, it’s no goal. So we have to go make the announcement [that] there’s no goal. I made the announcement since my partner was hurt. Then I turn around and my partner’s not on the ice anymore. He ended up actually hitting his head on the ice or the boards and had to go and get evaluated. We’re not going to wait for that, we’ve got to get the game going.”

“So here I am all alone, just a single referee skating up and down the ice, the only person responsible for calling penalties. Not only was it a weird situation but it turned into – I don’t want to say stressful – but it turned into a very, very unordinary situation where I had lot of responsibility for about twelve minutes of the game. It was nice to see when he came back and we were able to go back to the four [officials], but for twelve minutes there I was skating up and down the ice as the only referee.”

“Looking back on it now, it was fun; it was fun to be the only guy out there and have all the responsibility. That’s how they used to do it [with a three-man crew] but not anymore. The game’s so fast and and so much happens that one guy can’t see everything. But for that twelve minutes it went alright.”

On taking the mic to announce calls on the ice:

“It took some practice, took some getting used to. My first NHL game ever I called a penalty shot. I signaled penalty shot and skated past my partner. My partner was like, ‘Alright, go announce it.’ I didn’t know I had to announce it. It’s pretty obvious when you point to center for a penalty shot, everybody in the building knows what’s going on, so why do you have to announce it? I didn’t know the protocol for announcing a penalty shot, so I don’t even remember what I said. Hopefully people knew what was going on.”
“The microphone is something that takes practice. It’s fun. You get to show your personality a little bit. And everybody knows Wes McCauley and how he announces penalties…  and I don’t do that, but, yeah, it’s cool.”