NHL officials are rarely permitted to speak with the media, and the league often prefers not to discuss officiating. As a result, there’s not always an explanation provided for some of what goes on in the world of stripes.
TSN’s Gord Miller recently took to Twitter to defend the officials and explain some of the challenges they’ve faced this season. From Miller via Twitter:
NHL officials usually only get noticed when people are mad at them for making mistakes, but this has been an especially difficult year for them as a group. A large number of officials contracted Covid early in the season, forcing those remaining to work even heavier schedules
[STR Note: Some linesmen, including Shandor Alphonso and rookies Jonathan Deschamps and Ben O’Quinn, along with referees Tom Chmielewski, Jake Brenk, Kendrick Nicholson, and Justin St. Pierre are all on pace to work career highs in games, over the contractual 72-game season for refs and 73 for linesmen.]
In addition, there has been a rash of injuries. Referees Jean Hebert (shoulder) and Marc Joannette (broken leg) missed most of the first half of the season, and several linesmen have been out as well. Officiating hockey is a very physical job, and it takes a toll.
[STR Note: Add referee Francis Charron to this list, who’s suited up for just eight games this season. Refs Chris Schlenker, Chris Lee, and Michael Markovic have all missed significant chunks of time, as has linesman Jonny Murray.]
Three NHL linesmen, Greg Devorski, Derek Amell, and Steve Miller, have suffered serious injuries that will likely end their careers prematurely, denying them a “retirement game” where they choose the date, location and fellow crew members. They deserved to have one of those.
[STR Note: Amell last officiated Game 5 of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final – missing all of last season, as did Miller. Devorski worked just 4 games last year, most recently on January 24, 2021. Devorski leads all active officials with 1,759 regular season games officiated; Amell is third with 1,497.]
That, combined with the retirement of three senior officials at the end of this season—referees Dean Morton and Brad Meier, along with linesman Vaughan Rody—leaves the NHL short of veteran officials. Recruiting new ones has proven challenging.
[STR Note: Referee Marc Joannette is also retiring at the end of the season.]
Hockey Canada and USA Hockey have both identified the attrition rate of young officials as an issue. Young people don’t want the hassle of being screamed at by adult coaches and fans, as a result many minor hockey games often have only one referee and one linesman. The NHL has turned to officiating “combines” in Canada and the US, recruiting former junior, college and pro players to try out as officials, and it has produced results. Several young NHL officials are products of those combines.
Finding hockey officials is exceptionally difficult, you’re looking for people with the same judgement and rules knowledge as those from other sports, but there’s a major complication: they also have to be elite skaters, which narrows the field considerably.
Officiating hockey is difficult: you get screamed at by coaches, players and fans, there are fights to break up, stray sticks and pucks flying around. You don’t have to love them, but it’s important to remember that without officials, you don’t have a game.
Well said. Terrific points all around.
Officiating isn’t easy, and they’re looking for officials at all levels. Next time you want to complain, give it a shot. If nothing else, at least appreciate what these guys are going through, and what goes in to an often-unappreciated job.