THE NHL's officials have the back of a 14-year-old minor hockey referee from Winnipeg.
It's a good thing, because after what the young man went through on the ice recently, no one would blame him if he walked away from refereeing.
$On March 5, the boy was officiating a boys' 9A1 playoff hockey game between St. Boniface Red and River East White when he made a call in overtime on the game's winning goal. The River East team disagreed with the call and the team's four adult male coaches immediately began shouting and swearing at the young referee.
NHL officiating manager Danny Mc- Court, who read about the verbal abuse the young referee endured in a story on the Free Press editorial page last week, said he wanted to offer support and encourage the young man to stay in the game.
"To find out that the referee was only 14 years old and to have four grown adults (behave that way), it upset me enough. My whole idea was to let the young fellow know that 'we know what you are going through and you're not alone,' " said McCourt, who is in Winnipeg to supervise AHL officials in the Manitoba Moose-Grand Rapids Griffins playoff games.
He contacted Hockey Manitoba referee- in-chief Ian Heather who was able to arrange a meeting with the young official, who was so upset by the incident that he declined to be identified or interviewed for this story.
"This kind of abuse can not continue because we're losing young officials," Heather said. "We can't afford to lose young officials. With Hockey Canada's initiatives, we're all supposed to be partners in the game -- players, coaches, officials and parents. But still, we have these situations."
McCourt and David Banfield, the head official at tonight's AHL game, will include the boy in their pre-game meal. He'll be present in the referees' room for the officials' pre-game preparation and post-game meeting. Moose GM Craig Heisinger provided accreditation for the young official to sit in the press box with McCourt.
"It is just a little bit of camaraderie from minor hockey, through the AHL and right up through the NHL. I just hope he stays involved in officiating," said McCourt, who not long ago had a similar visit with a young female in Ontario who was verbally abused. That girl did quit reffing.
"I want (the Winnipeg boy) to know that there's a lot more satisfaction that will come out over games during the season than there will be disappointments."
Garth Loeppky, an elite Manitoba official who worked the recent ANAVET Cup junior A series as a referee and was a linesman in Friday's Moose-Griffins game, said he had "flashbacks" when he heard about the incident.
"I've been officiating now for the last 14 years and I've had a fan try to attack me in my own referee's room after a game, I was cross-checked in the teeth by a player and I've been verbally berated by coaches too, as recent as this season," said Loeppky, one of just four Level VI officials in Manitoba. "The job isn't about doing what is popular, it's about doing what's right. That's often very difficult for people to see. They also don't see how much heart officials put into it. I worry that he (young referee) will think that it's his own fault that the coach abused him. There is no excuse for the abuse and it is not his fault."
The young official's mother said her son's ordeal was compounded as he left the rink with his dad that day when one of the player's mothers began shouting at him in the parking lot.
"I'm just so proud of (my son) for the person he is," the official's mom said. "He's very good at what he does, passes his tests with flying colours and he's quietly confident in his abilities. He told me 'I'm not going to let someone like that take this away from me.' "