February 25, 2020

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Opinion

Everyone complains about refs, but what can you do?

MIKE CARLSON / ASSOCIATED PRESS FILES</p><p>Last season, Jets head coach Paul Maurice was tossed from a game in Tampa Bay after Bryan Little suffered a fractured vertebra as a result of an Anton Stalman check.</p>

MIKE CARLSON / ASSOCIATED PRESS FILES

Last season, Jets head coach Paul Maurice was tossed from a game in Tampa Bay after Bryan Little suffered a fractured vertebra as a result of an Anton Stalman check.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 2/2/2017 (1117 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

When you hear the "Ref-you-suck" chant in an arena around the National Hockey League, you know it’s not going well for the home team. Winnipeg Jets supporters are no different than the rest in that regard.

The different fan bases are saying the same thing — so am I to believe refereeing is a league-wide problem? Each city has conspiracy theorists sure "that was a penalty" against their team.

I cringe when I hear the anti-referee chant. There’s the tiniest of chances of getting a call in your team’s favour because of it. Referees are human. There may be a weak-minded one in their midst, but to get to the NHL they’ve survived a lot of tough tests.

My fear is there might be a pushback at the fans.

At the same time, I respect those fans are paying big dollars to be entertained and can do what they want (within reason) to enhance the value of their experience.

My opinion on referees was shaped at an early age.

Paul Devorski had a long, good career as an NHL referee, retiring in 2015. We played minor hockey together and on some weekends we would go to watch games his father Bill (a legendary referee, but not at the NHL level) was working.

When Paul took up his father’s craft, every friend of his thought the same thing at the time: he’d be great at it because he didn’t care what other people thought.

Recently, I was discussing the NHL game with Devorski and Steve Walkom, who is a retired NHL referee and the vice-president and director of officiating for the NHL.

The guys had some great stories to tell about players and coaches. The nice thing about it was they were told with respect — laughing at themselves as much as pointing out when they were right.

The relationship between players and on-ice officials is an odd one — adversarial at times, yet also cordial. Players will never beat the referee, but will make their point if legitimately wronged.

There are the constant whiners, of course, who will never be taken seriously by the zebras. For the most part, though, players understand the job is a tough one. It’s a fine line some nights in an emotionally charged game.

A player who picks his spots when he knows he’s right can make referees think about what they have done. I know this from both playing and coaching — a mea culpa on the referee’s part would give me instant respect for him.

I had very few referees I didn’t like. It was the power-hungry or confrontational ones I didn’t care for.

I’d be battling for a puck and accidentally slash an opponent on the wrist. One referee would blow the whistle and yell, "Campbell, you’re gone!" With no explanation, this would bring an emotional response from me as to what the penalty was for.

Yet when I committed the same offence later in the season, a respectful official engaged me with, "Let’s go Scotty; you’re going for the chop."

I didn’t have a reason to converse because of his communication skills.

Last season, Jets head coach Paul Maurice was tossed from a game in Tampa Bay after Bryan Little suffered a fractured vertebra as a result of an Anton Stalman check.

Maurice probably should have been tossed (for saying many bad words) that period, but he survived — only to come out for the next period to find a referee staring him down in an antagonistic manner. Maurice spat out a few more words and was ejected. This was a power move by the official. He should have been readying himself for the period, not provoking a coach.

I don’t moan about the referees typically, as I believe it all evens out in that there are bad or missed calls throughout the league. I choose to ignore the penalty or non-call and focus on what the power play or penalty-killing unit is doing. It’s all about how each of us wants to enjoy the game.

The referees are monitored on a period-by-period and game-by-game basis, and have been trained all the way through their journey. No two humans are identical and they all have their own ways of dealing with the game. I’ve had a couple of suggestions sent my way about how to improve their work.

Going back to the one-referee system would solve some consistency problems, as it addresses some odd calls — such as when something happens in front of one of them, yet it gets called by the guy in the neutral zone. There’s a different angle but sometimes a questionable or wrong call results.

You also wouldn’t have two officials with their own interpretation of the rules confusing players as to what is going to be called. But while it might improve consistency, the increase in missed calls would cause uproar.

Another suggestion is to have more consultations between all four on-ice officials when they know something has happened that the referees didn’t see. This would likely lead to getting more correct calls.

The challenge is in slowing the game down too much.

We already have referees waiting a minute while the coaches decide whether to challenge after a goal, followed by the actual challenges.

It’s a lot easier to complain about officiating than it is to come up with a workable solution. Maybe there’s a programmer out there who can build the perfect Robo Ref.

Chosen ninth overall by the NHL’s St. Louis Blues and first overall by the WHA’s Houston Aeros in 1977, Scott Campbell has now been drafted by the Winnipeg Free Press to play a new style of game.

Twitter: @NHL_Campbell

Scott Campbell

Scott Campbell
Columnist

Scott was a member of Winnipeg Jets 1.0 for a couple of seasons and also played for the WHA Jets team that won the last Avco Cup in 1978-79.

Read full biography

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