Sunday, December 13, 2009

Hey Coach! You Suck...

The Rant of One Referee...

Officiating is an interesting bit of work. At the highest level, I find that referees are fun to watch because they have become so well-oiled in their positioning and quickness that to a somewhat trained eye, their abilities are absolutely glaringly obvious.

It takes time, years in fact, and experience to anticipate the play, recognize hot spots and maintain control amidst the mayhem that can occasionally arise. The best of the best do their thing in front of massive crowds, consisting of many individuals who seem to feel that paying admission makes them a seasoned, knowledgeable critic. In reality, these boorish hockey fans are just pathetic.

(What many people fail to comprehend is how difficult it is to watch a hockey game “while you are in motion”. Just think about that for a minute, right about the time you’re positioning that barrel of popcorn on your lap and struggling to find a place to set down that 32oz. soft drink. Yeh, that’s your job for the night, mouthing off you fat bastard.)

On the minor hockey side, the same uneducated, over-emotional spectator exists.

When I took to the ice for a Bantam Tier 3 game between Westside and Kamloops, it was an exciting feeling to be on the ice with a bunch of gung-ho kids. Royal Lepage Place is a nice building, plenty of room and a comfortable place to watch hockey. Going through the pre-game routine associated with the game sheet is pretty straightforward, but really, it’s just so cool to get into the feeling that it’s “game on”!

One thing that Hockey Canada expects these days is for the referee and linesmen to skate over to both benches prior to the game and shake hands with the coaching staffs. It’s a “shared respect” initiative that seems kind of curious to me. Really, the same guys you’re sharing well-wishes with are likely going to ride your ass for the next couple of hours. The handshake? I have to wonder just what’s the bloody point?

Another thing a referee may battle at the minor hockey level is inexperienced help in the timekeeper’s box. These are volunteers and they all have different levels of skill and commitment. Some have done it many times, so their knowledge of game sheets and time clock operation is very, very good. Others struggle with the responsibilities, which ultimately does become the referee’s cross to bear.

Whether I am refereeing or working the lines, I continue to marvel at how quickly the players take on the personality of their coaches. With Hockey Canada allowing up to five staff on the player’s bench during the game, it is just bizarre to hear the interaction between coach and player. When there are three solid coaches and one complete asshole on the bench, the impact on the players is inevitably more on the negative side due to the antics of the bad actor.

Penalty calls almost always seem contentious, especially these days when the standard of enforcement is so different from the way the game was played by many over the age of 25 years old. There also seems to be an expectation from the anal and over-analytical coaches in the game that the most obscure rules in the rulebook be called. If not, well, the officiating staff is totally incompetent. There is just no other explanation!

Hopefully there are coaches out there somewhere who understand the benefits of convincing the players to gut it out and fight through a check? A little bump here or there and many coaches these days hold their arms up in the air as if the kid has been shot by a sniper. Geezuz coach, success on the ice can be just that simple for the player. It's called work ethic!

When a kid enters the penalty box, removes his helmet to wipe of the face-guard and dry off his face, there is always an opposition coach that believes he should be penalized for removing the helmet. Issue a 10-minute misconduct to a player who curses his way to the penalty box and swears at the timekeepers once he gets there, and you have a coach that expects an explanation presented in form of a sworn court document. A kid on the losing side slams the penalty box door with a minute left in a 9-3 drubbing and the coach from the team leading the game wonders why you don’t tack on an unsportsmanlike minor or a misconduct. Where does hockey find these dunces?

Meanwhile, watching the antics of many players at the minor hockey level, especially around the net, borders on comical. The “tough-guy” antics are humorous, a protect-the-goalie mindset that causes nothing but chippy hockey and hassles all night long. And then there’s the kid who scores the ninth goal in a 9-3 victory with less than two minutes remaining and struts around the ice as if he has scored an overtime winner. Boy, there’s a well-coached hockey player.

One thing that is always possible at the minor hockey level is the reality that a referee could lead a parade to the penalty box from the opening faceoff to the end of the game. There are always stick fouls occurring because the players are constantly attempting to gain an edge with out skating. There are the smart asses who insist on stopping inches from the goaltender, close enough to spray snow into the goaltender’s mask. And there are the punk kids who continuously run off with the mouth. It’s just nauseating. I guarantee that I could turn two hours of ice time into a three hour hockey game with my whistle, compliments in part to the finely-tuned young athletes that have not been taught so efficiently by their coaches. But again, what’s the point?

Despite the BS, I’ll lace ‘em up and pull the stripes on again and do the absolute best job I can. While I'm on the ice, I'll also learn from my colleagues and the experiences, and get some much-needed exercise. There will be hard knocks along the way, due to uncontrollable factors and ignorant people. There will also be highlights, like watching some terrific young players, good, clean body contact, and spirited puck battles. There will be many young people who will amaze me with their maturity, despite the antics of the childish adults that surround them at the rink.

And of course there will be tedious days and evenings where an assignment means watching horrible pucks skills and techniques, testimony to the quality of coaching these poor kids have been saddled with.

Yet when all is said and done and everyone leaves the rink, the hapless, egotistical, finger-pointing minor hockey coaches and the screaming, whining, tunnel-visioned parents can always point to the real reason their beloved team absorbed that 9-3 thrashing.

The referee was terrible.

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