A day after the Canada-Germany game, I’ll bet there isn’t a single person who knows the name of the referee from that contest in Halifax. In part, that’s because the IIHF doesn’t release the nationalities of officials. Television rarely gives them the closeup treatment that NHL refs get, and players generally skate to the penalty box, head down, without swearing and gesticulating the way they do in the pro game.
But yesterday was different. Referee Rick Looker handed Jordin Tootoo a two-minute minor for charging at 4:03, and that proved to be the only penalty Canada incurred the entire game. Over the course of the next 55 minutes, Looker called Germany for eleven consecutive minor penalties!
Neither coach commented on that fact after the game. No one complained or called into question Looker’s abilities. No. No one referred to any pro-Canada bias. Refreshingly, everyone who watched the game knew that the calls were made because the Germans fouled Canadian players all afternoon. Canada skated fast, moved the puck quickly, and created scoring chances. Germany could not keep up, and as a result were caught hooking, holding, and interfering with the Canadians.
To Looker’s credit, he didn’t let the Germans get away with too much—and why should he? It’s his job to call a penalty, not to decide whether he should call it or not. Furthermore, he didn’t go out of his way looking for an “even-up” call against Canada. There was no chintzy obstruction call against a Canadian defenceman for an innocuous hold, no sympathy power play for Germany. There were marginal infractions both ways—aren’t there always?—but nothing that prevented a great scoring chance or impeded either team’s style of play that went uncalled. Looker called it by the books, and the books showed that Canada simply was the more skilled team. That’s not his fault. He didn’t imagine the infractions, only acknowledged them.
Too often in the pro game referees want to be a part of the game. They are, after all, human. They hear the roars and boos of the crowd. They can be intimidated, and, yes, they make mistakes sometimes. But rarely do you see the better team wind up with such a majority of the power plays. In part, that’s because there’s a greater talent disparity between Canada and Germany than there is between, say, the Edmonton Oilers and Dallas Stars. In part, it’s because the pro refs see the players every night for nine months of the year. And, any one pro game is generally not as important as the few played at the World Juniors, World Championships, or Olympics.
Still, it’s a referee’s job to be impartial and be a non-ego presence on the ice. A number of years ago, a baseball umpire boasted, “a ball isn’t a ball and a strike isn’t a strike until I say it is.” That’s a statement of ego, but it’s also true. The further truth, though, is that he’s supposed to say it is a ball or strike not by whim but according to the rules of the game. Kudos to Rick Looker for calling a game bravely and honestly yesterday.