A morning shower train of thought: were I an NHL referee, how would players, coaches, and fans commonly characterize my officiating style?
For starters, I would¬†well withstand¬†charges of blindness; thanks to Lasik, I’m a fella who can read the tiny scroll on the corner hanging television viewed from the tavern’s most secluded corner.
But more importantly, every time I sat in an arena’s officials’ dressing room lacing up my skates near 7:00, I would reflect on the thousands of hard-working men and women directing their limited disposable income at our evening’s entertainment then pouring through the turnstiles one level above me.¬†Additionally, I would ruminate on my role for the evening: to endeavor to remain inconspicuous. After all, those C notes slid under the ticket window glass are parted with to view displays of athletic virtuosity, and not my action-halting, roving verdicts on a game’s temperament.
To be sure, my role in the evening is important — I am arbiter, keeper of the peace. To no small degree the integrity of the competitive fairness of the proceedings rests on my judgment.¬†However, if peace fails to pervade our proceedings, that’s not necessarily such a bad thing. Not in my hockey arena. After all, ours is a game of the frontier, combative and fesity in its DNA. Also, it’s a game played by boys. And boys will be boys. This would never bother me.
I would take it as my calling, early on the mornings of my assigned game nights, to inventory the climate surrounding the arrival of the two teams on the ticket. Is it a rivalry game? Did the previous meeting meet with mayhem of some stripe? Are there individual battles/scores to be settled to be on alert for?
I would arrive at the arena in late afternoon¬†having formulated a thesis-message to impart to the two coaches at their respective benches before we dropped the puck, a state of the hockey union synopsis of my understanding of just where things stood between the competing clubs. I would strive to be known as an official who did his homework.
Additionally, I would gather the team captains, including the assistants, and have an explicit dialogue with them before the game. Call this a reinforcement state of the hockey union message on the sheet. In baseball, a game begins and transpires for some innings before the teams know just what’s called a ball and what’s called a strike behind home plate. With pucksandbooks as referee, every night the two hockey teams on my sheet would know what I’d be on alert for before the game clock lost a second.
Hockey happens fast — faster than every other team sport. Amid the frenzy of 10 world-class skaters dishing out checks and snapping passes and shots at speeds approaching 100 miles an hour,¬†I couldn’t hope to record a game’s narrative like a computer. And that’d be fine by me. Necessarily I’m going to miss infractions, but I wouldn’t lose sleep over that. Instead I’d be a referee that was damned sure that what I did whistle was worth stopping play for. Necessarily I’d catch flack from the recipient of an elbow to the head in a corner that I didn’t catch. I’d endure about 5 seconds of his belly-aching before replying, “It’s hockey, now shut up and grow a pair.”
I wouldn’t view my role as strict schoolhouse principal looming large over the proceedings but rather as a sort of¬†museum curator: adjunct to the art, but able to intervene and clarify and correct.¬†¬†
Absent extraordinary circumstances (Capital vs. Penguins; Habs vs. Leafs), my calling card to two teams night in and night out would be comprised thusly:
The fannies in the seats aren’t here to watch me perform. You’re the evening’s entertainment. Play hard, play for one another, honor our great game. But as heated as the next 60 minutes will get, never forget that your opponent loves the game as much as you do, and is worthy of your respect. Hit him hard, but hit him fairly. And ever skate with an awareness of the harm your stick can exact.
I’m not here to chroncile the ticky-tack. If you can adhere to these broad dictates, you shouldn’t hear much from me.
Incidentally, Mr. Bettman, I skate pretty well.