Referee Cam: Pros and Cons

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Follow Paul on Twitter: @paulstewart22

Several folks have asked me for my opinion on the “referee helmet cam” experiment that Sportsnet in Canada is trying for their NHL broadcasts. I have mixed feelings about it.

Last night in Calgary, referee Tim Peel wore the device. There was a play at the net where Vancouver’s Radim Vrbata batted a puck out of the air and into the net.

The goal was disallowed on the basis of a high stick.

Upon super slow motion video replay from a different angle, it was clear the puck was played below the height of the crossbar. The puck was basically bunted into the net midway up the shaft of the stick. The blade did not make contact. The no-goal call on the ice was correctly reversed.

I have no problem with any of that. In the end, the right call was made in this instance. That’s what matters.

However, the helmet cam really didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know based on seeing where Tim was positioned, the congestion around the net and the speed of the play itself. It was going to be very difficult, if not impossible, to determine where the puck was play. As such, it was going to be a 50-50 call on a high stick. Helmet cam or not, that play was still going to go for review.

Really, what this play showed was something I preach over and over but which the NHL officiating directors disagree: Get to the net because that’s where the money is. In other words, I stress the need for officials to get themselves directly to the net the best possible look at the play. Positioning sells calls.

In this type of situation, being off at a distance on a side angle means that it becomes impossible to determine whether or not the puck was played legally. That’s not a knock on Tim Peel. He was just doing what he is coached to do. At least he was moving in the direction of the net on the play.

The NHL strongly prefers referees stay off to the periphery so as not to risk “getting in the way” behind and next to the net. In that spirit, I have a suggestion: Perhaps, instead of helmet cams, they should have officials put on those “X-ray specs” that used to be sold in comic books. It’s a lot cheaper than a high-tech camera and they can see through player’s bodies and find exactly where the puck is from these side angles where judgement calls have to be made.

All kidding aside, though, I do see value in the ref camera as a teaching tool. It is useful to demonstrate how positioning on a play affects one’s line of sight and to show exactly what the official saw or didn’t get to see. When a play is partially or completely obscured versus having an optimal angle, there’s an opportunity for a teaching moment after the fact. That’s never a bad thing.

By the way, in this day and age of tiny featherweight cameras that can take spectacular wide-angle images and videos, can’t they come up with something a little less intrusive and cumbersome? That device on the helmet looked like something used to film a John Wayne western. Made me glad I didn’t wear a helmet during my officiating career.

************ Paul Stewart holds the distinction of being the first U.S.-born citizen to make it to the NHL as both a player and referee. On March 15, 2003, he became the first American-born referee to officiate in 1,000 NHL games.

Today, Stewart is an officiating and league discipline consultant for the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) and serves as director of hockey officiating for the ECAC.

The longtime referee heads Officiating by Stewart, a consulting, training and evaluation service for officials. Stewart also maintains a busy schedule as a public speaker, fund raiser and master-of-ceremonies for a host of private, corporate and public events. As a non-hockey venture, he is the owner of Lest We Forget.

Stewart is currently working with a co-author on an autobiography.This post originally appeared on www.hockeybuzz.com and we thank them for permission to rebroadcast it here.

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