BOSTON, MA -- By the time this article goes into in production, the majority of the leagues’ regular season will have ended and playoffs will begin ramping up with the focus being for a national championship .Some officials, who have been on the ice for 20 to 25 years, will start to contemplate whether or not this was their last campaign in the stripes. For an official who has given years of effort and energy into the great sport of hockey, leaving can be difficult.
As a supervisor of officials, I have already received a number of thanks from officials who decided to move on for whatever reason, their skating has slowed down, their judgment is not as good as it used to be, more performance based reasons than personal. It’s those reasons, even though I’ve tried to coax them to stay on for another year, they say the last 3 to 4 years have been grueling and at their age, it’s time for them to move on and enjoy some quality of life and not the hustle and bustle of running from ring to rink. That I can understand. They also note the lack of motivation of going into a rink and being constantly yelled at from coaches and fans, even when they get the call right. The emotional drain on them at the end of the day has finally come full circle, and as a result, we are now losing the experience factor that we once enjoyed, which heading into next season, will have a devastating effect on most of the youth hockey here in the East.
Alfonso Botchagaloupe, who retired from ice hockey officiating a number years ago still enjoys being connected to the game. Alfonso can be seen in rinks helping younger officials with positioning, game management, and communication. He also notes there are a high number of young officials each year because of the abuse our officials have been taking from game to game. The time we invest in these kids is mostly lost over a 1 to 3 year period. The statistics today suggest over 50% of first-year officials never come back for second year and only 25% come back for a third. These numbers are devastating for people like me who are in charge of getting experienced officials on the ice, making sure the game we love is safe. As the growth of hockey expands, our lack of experienced officials continues to spiral downward, and as a result, we are putting officials and players in harm’s way. This leaves upper-level games without a solid foundation. With the expansion of full season midgets, the junior programs, and more expansion occurring at the Division III level, ice hockey officiating is really starting to show cracks in that foundation.
With all that being said, as the season starts to wind down, it’s also a great opportunity for the board of governors, team presidents, coaches and officials to come to some sort of consensus on how we will deal with abuse in the future. We’re losing good officials, or potentially good officials, because of the abuse. Soon, we won’t have anyone capable of calling a game when your son or daughter suits up to play on a Saturday in the near future. That puts their health and development at jeopardy.
We have the rulebook to deal with coach and player abusive behavior and we need the backing from the league to ensure that when a coach gets removed because of their actions, the ramifications will not be only for that one game.
Next how do we deal with the parents? We know you’re passionate about your children’s success. You’ve invested time and money into their development. But we’ve invested time and money into these officials. We’ve trained them to manage game situations to make sure your children are as safe as they can be on the ice. Penalties are going to happen. Calls aren’t going to go your way. It’s great to be competitive, but there’s a line that gets crossed that turns toxic. We need more supervision from league personnel in the rinks that will identify those parents who continue to disrupt games by yelling and screaming at their own players, the opposing teams’ players, and the officiating staff. It’s not an environment that anyone should want to come to work in and it’s turning plenty of good people away from the sport.
Finally, we need to build the officiating pool. We are asking league directors to reach out to any player 14 and above about the positive aspects of officiating. They hear and see many of the negative aspects while they’re out there on the ice or read about on the internet, but the positive aspects often outweigh the drawbacks.
For the 14-year-old player, they need to look at this as an opportunity to get more ice time, see the game from a different perspective, and at the same time make some money on the side. The skills that they’ll develop will also help them when their playing days are over as officiating may offer them an opportunity to remain on the ice. Some of my best officials are ex-players and they’ve gone on to enjoy long and successful careers working college and professional ice hockey after their playing days are over. Unfortunately, some of them are about to leave the game they love, so it’s imperative we continue to find those passionate about the game of hockey to continue building the officiating pool.
USA Hockey Seminars will start this June for new officials below is the information for the USA Hockey Officials Registration that can help you get started in officiating --www.usahockey.com/officials.