Stephen Walkom has an idea what minor hockey officials are going through as they enforce Hockey Canada’s new rule emphasis on stick fouls, diving and obstruction.
And the NHL’s Director of Officiating has some advice for them.
“Stay the course,” says Walkom. “Referees do not go out there and look for penalties. They go out there and work to the standard that has been set down. I think what is important is for Hockey Canada to define its standard, and they have.”
Hockey Canada has done just that. In adopting a new standard for restraining-type penalties for the 2006-07 season, the national governing body has asked its referees to crack down on hooking, holding, clutching and grabbing to improve the quality of the game at the minor hockey level. Officials are applying the new standard at every level.
“It leads to a better game. It leads to a game that has skill and speed in it and it is far more exciting than a game that has clutching and grabbing,” says Walkom.
The new standard was adopted at Hockey Canada’s annual meeting last May in St. John’s, NL. Shortly after, Hockey Canada went to work putting in place an instructional DVD to better illustrate and show the guidelines for not only officials but all participants in the game to help them understand and adapt to the changes. The DVDs were shipped to the provincial Branches at no cost, and clips are available for viewing at www.hockeycanada.ca.
Hockey Canada also held a seminar for referee supervisors from across the country. Supervisors are key components in the game environment; they monitor referees and make suggestions on rule interpretations.
“Really, all we are doing is asking them not to re-invent anything. We are asking them now to call the rule book; it is not a rule change,” says Todd Anderson, Hockey Canada’s manager of officiating. “It is a change in philosophy in how they are looking at the game and how they are reacting to the infractions on the ice.”
“I do not think we have as big of a learning curve down in our novice and atom caliber of hockey because the illegal tactics are not there yet. The game is fairly pure. Where we start to see the biggest learning curve is in the bantam, midget, and junior categories where they are having to retrain themselves, not only the players but also the officials.”
There are approximately 33,000 minor hockey referees and linesmen in amateur hockey across Canada, ranging from 13 years old to mid-50s. But once they are at the rink, they have a job to do.
“My tip to the official is regardless of what he has done during his day, whether he has been in school or at work all day, when he steps on the ice he owes it to the game to work hard and focus on his responsibility to the game,” says Walkom.
“And if he does it and he enjoys it, great, then work at that level. If he does not enjoy it and he is working hard at that level, then go down and work at a lower level because there really should be a genuine passion for what he is doing and a genuine joy for what he is doing because if it becomes work then there is somebody else out there who might have the passion and the skill set and would get the enjoyment of doing it at the level the other guy is suffering through.”
The NHL has offered to have former NHL referee Terry Gregson, now the manager of the league’s supervisory services, come and speak to any hockey organization seeking help.
Walkom was asked about the role of the coach in applying the new standard.
“To me, when you are a coach on the bench you influence your players, you influence the parents and the fans and you also have a big responsibility not to abuse your position of power with the officials. A lot of officials at the amateur level are just doing what they are told and if you choose to intimidate and abuse young adults or kids, then shame on you,” says Walkom.
Anderson adds that so far things are on track.
“From what we have heard, overall the environment is positive. Many of our kids play the game for enjoyment and enjoyment does not often come with being hooked, held, and restrained. You learn to play the game with your skill and speed and this should reward the environment. It will be a change for some but from what we have seen already, the players and referees are adapting.”