© Compass file photo
Compass reporter/photographer Nicholas Mercer.
Minor hockey is getting started in the Trinity Conception region, with games just around the corner.
When it comes to starting minor hockey, the focus tends to be on the players. The focus is on the price to play hockey in this country, teaching them the proper skills and learning to respect teammates and coaches.
Because, hey, they’re the most important part of the game, right?
However, lost in the process are the officials. It’s their time of year, too.
While players are busy preparing for the season with hockey schools, the young men and women who don the black and white for every game are going to school in preparation for their year. There are new rules to learn, new procedures to get down pat and a host of other concerns before they can step on the ice.
But, those who sit down in clinics every year aren’t always the same. Hockey Canada loses some 10,000 officials every year. That’s a pretty big number isn’t it? Breaking it down, local associations may lose between two and three a year.
Sure, they may be replaced with new officials, but that’s not the point. Ideally, you would want the new officials and the old ones. Instead, referee associations have to start fresh again with new faces.
You know why these young officials are leaving this side of the game behind? There isn’t some magical formula for why they leave. It should be common sense. Point to it a lack of interest, but more often than not, they don’t want to put up with the abuse received from fans, coaches and players.
What it boils down to is a lack of respect for officials. And, it is this lack of respect at all levels that cause talented young men and women to step away. Anyone who says otherwise need to take their head out of the sand and take a look around.
Here is a scene that is sure to happen at least once every year. A couple of atom teams take to the ice. The two teams are having a great game until the inevitable happens. The official with the red stripes calls a penalty. Yes, it’s a penalty, but not everyone sees it that way.
The more irrational fans don’t understand the call so they start shouting, the coach gets angry so he starts shouting and inevitably the players get angry, so they start shouting. All of a sudden the focus is on the official because he made a “bad call.” It might not have been the perfect call, but in the official’s eyes, it was the right call to make.
The abuse then starts to build up over the entire game. When the game is over, that official will sit in the dressing room and say to himself, ‘why am I doing this?’
Do you think that should happen? Should they be forced out of the game because of the obsession this country has with hockey? With winning?
The only answer is no. People have been charged with harassment for less than what has been said in a hockey rink. Go to any game at any rink in the province and you’ll see the same thing and that is young officials being verbally abused.
It does not happen at every game, but it does happen. Sometimes, it happens to the extreme.
Sure, like I said earlier, some officials just become disinterested in officiating, but for the most part they don’t want to deal with the nonsense that comes with the job. They have more pressing things to worry about, like school, than to worry about being verbally accosted by some grown man in his 40s about whether it was tripping or not because the puck was played first.
It is this that prompts officials to leave the game every year. They might be replaced, but ask any referee-in-chief and they’ll tell you they’d rather have the new guys and the more experienced guys. That’s how you develop a program. That’s how you develop good officials.
Believe me, the referee knows if/when they made a mistake or missed a call. They do not need reminding.
Another factor could be a strong mentoring program for those new officials. If they continue to go out and make the same mistakes, they might doubt their abilities. Subsequently, they decide to cut their losses and quit.
There are programs in place that address this issue, but most of the older guys who would be mentors cannot spend as much time at the rink as necessary. Inevitably, some fall through the cracks. It all plays a part in young officials leaving the ranks and it’s something we should try and stomp out.
You can’t play the game without them. So, give it a rest.
— Nicholas Mercer is a reporter/photographer with The Compass newspaper. He is also an on-ice official with the Bay Arena minor hockey association. He can be reached by email at the following: firstname.lastname@example.org