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This has been a bad year in the National Hockey League for collisions between players and officials as well as other injuries sustained by referees and linesmen. Within the last couple weeks alone, there have been several incidents.
Before I touch upon the most recent ones — two of which involve referee Dean Morton, a former NHL and AHL defenseman — I will review my three basic rules for officials when it comes to minimizing the risk of collisions.
While accidents happen and some collisions are simply unavoidable, many others are preventable. The three key principles:
1. Put safety first. There is no extra hazard pay for getting steamrolled and dangerous situations arise — for both the official and the player — when evasive action is needed but not taken.
2. Trust your partners. If an official has to take preventative action and escape a potential collision, he should have faith that his officiating teammates will come up to cover the call.
3. It’s not “your” line, it’s part of the playing surface. The line belongs to the owners of the rink and perhaps the painter who painted it. Officials need to understand that those things on the bottom of their feet are skates. Use them to skate to where you can see the play and be safe.
Our prime directive as officials is to get the call right. An official sitting on his backside after standing his ground too long is not helping the game. However, I don’t blame the officials themselves in most cases, because they are only doing what is misguidedly expected of them by their bosses.
This does NOT strictly refer to the NHL: I’m talking about leagues worldwide and at various levels.
You know who I fault for the fact that these collisions are not as rare as they should be? I blame being handcuffed by protocols created by bosses who have either never officiated at all or have not done so at a high level.
These folks, many of whom do not understand the psychology of officiating and may never have had the physical fitness to relate to the athleticism of most modern officials, do not understand that the aforementioned rules one and two are necessary parts of good officiating. The officials are coached to hold their ground it’s too late to take evasive action.
Dean Morton is a tough guy and a good athlete. He was a rugged defensive defenseman during his playing days and even scored a goal in his one and only NHL game as a member of the Detroit Red Wings. He missed the early part of this season while rehabbing from offseason surgery but has bounced back.Unfortunately, he’s been in the middle of a couple of nasty collisions this month.
On the first one, Morton was lucky to avoid any serious injury. In a game between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Montreal Canadiens, Morton was stationed as the action ref behind the net when Canadiens defenseman Sergei Gonchar and Lightning forward Ondrej Palat come right at him along the walls as Gonchar plays the puck.
By the time Morton attempted to jump out of the way — really with nowhere to jump, but trying to act on instinct — Palat gave Gonchar a little shove right into the referee. The collision itself wasn’t so bad but Palat’s stick came up on the way past and clipped both Morton and Gonchar.
Morton, who took the brunt of the stick in the mouth, did not lose any teeth. He stayed in the game and play resumed.
A few days later, though, Dean wasn’t so lucky. In a game between Columbus and Toronto, Morton was in the corner as Toronto forward David Clarkson got bumped from behind and went sliding awkwardly on his knees directly at the referee. Once again, Morton attempted to jump up out of the way.
Morton’s legs got cut out from under him as he was airborne, and he crashed heavily to the ice directly onto his back (but, thankfully, did not hit his head on the ice). Officials wear more protective equipment than they used to when I started officiating but still not nearly as much as the players do. Morton took the full brunt of his crash to the ice and had to leave the game.
In yet another incident from this past week, referee Rob Martell skated out of the corner as St. Louis and Carolina scrummed for the puck behind the Hurricanes’ net. Suddenly, Martell is blindsided by an onrushing Vladimir Tarasenko.
Martell had no chance of avoiding this one from where he was on the ice. He was right in the path of harm’s way as the forechecker comes into the play. Tarasenko made no effort to prevent the collision. He simply skated right on through as if Martell were a Carolina player carrying the puck.
Having been accidentally and accidentally-on-purpose checked, elbowed, kneed and high-sticked by players as they skated past me, I can tell you it isn’t fun. Under the rulebook, the official is basically part of the playing surface but he isn’t the invisible man. There needs to be a mutual respect factor when the official is in a vulnerable spot.
Note: Thank you to the Scouting the Refs website for collecting and posting the gifs and Youtube video that appear in this blog.
************ 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.
In addition to his blogs for HockeyBuzz every Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, Stewart writes a column every Wednesday for the Huffington Post.