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I am in the process of assembling a white paper for the benefit of hockey fans, coaches and players who want to understand more about how the game is viewed and reviewed from the standpoint of officials. The official’s viewpoint a different frame of reference than anyone else’s.
Whenever people ask me what I thought of a certain call — whether it involved a penalty call or non-call, a goal or no goal ruling, etc.
— the last area I look at is the decision itself. The first area is the official’s positioning and skating. It’s a lot harder to defend a call (even the “right” ruling) if the official is out of position.
Every time I speak or write about this topic, I say the money is at the net and positioning sells calls. If the referee skates and get to the net you will have the best sightlines and be able to judge infractions and goals. It is much easier to defend a close call when the referee is in the correct position rather than 15-30 feet away from the play.
Part of being a good official is self-critique and receptiveness to constructive criticism. Ours is a sport of mistakes and adjustments, not perfection. That does not mean we shouldn’t strive for perfection, however.
Even Hall of Fame position players do not have “perfect” games where they make every read, every pass, every stick and body check, every shot in absolutely ideal fashion. Vezina Trophy caliber goalies, even if they post a shut out, will probably have a rebound somewhere along the way they’re not happy, an angle on a missed shot they could have played better or a dump-in they could have stopped behind the net and it eluded them.
The same is true of officials. No one has perfect games. What we seek to do is find areas that can be corrected and, through good positioning and skating technique, minimize the chance of missing a call. When I use video to discuss officiating, it is designed solely as a teaching tool for all officials. I never use it to embarrass or single out a particular official for a mistake.
Likewise, if I was coaching players, video is useful in similar fashion to break down coverages, forechecking, gap control, etc. Think of officiating videos in a similar sense and then apply it to that aspect.
With this mind, here are two recent college hockey instances in which positioning negatively affected the calls. Similar reviews can be done for officials at any level from the NHL right on down, but I’m using these as instances of what I do in my “real-life” job. The first two clips below show a referee getting to the top of the circle, stop skating and drifting into the corner.
In the first clip, a close play at the goal line wasn’t observed properly due to the lack of skating. This happens very frequently at all levels of the game.
In the second, the referee was positioned in a spot where he wasn’t able to judge the impact of the play at the net and did not have a penalty on the play.
Best practice: Referees should be skating hard into the zone down the dots. When you get to the end zone dot you should take a 45-degree angle to the net to be able to see and judge these plays. The chances of making the correct call increase dramatically. What’s more, even if the ruling on the play is debatable, at least a legitimate case can be made for why the play was ruled as it was.
Those involved in the game in other ways — playing, coaching, broadcasting, reporting or simply as fans — start with the result (“right or wrong call”) and work backwards. As officials, we must look at the process first before the result.
A hockey team that plays the game the right way isn’t always going to win. Likewise, an official’s good skating and proper positioning is not a guarantee of a right call. In both realms, however, the desired outcome will be achieved much more consistently when the process is sound.
************ 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 hockey column every Wednesday for the Huffington Post.