BOSTON, MA -- We've all witnessed it: an attacking player on the way to the net and the defending player makes a legal play on the puck as the attacking player is about to shoot it.
The puck goes wide and the player turns away from the net and yells the all-too-familiar “F word” within earshot of the official in the corner.
The referee decided the comment did not warrant a 10 minute misconduct because it wasn't directed towards the official. There’s another reason why officials, coaches and players are so immune to the “F word,” they feel as though it's just part of the game.
However, today, that mindset has to change. Whether it's a player or coach, when the language is loud enough for not only people in the stands to hear, now it's a question of “who's listening at home?”
More often than not, league administrators are receiving phone calls about the language they hear over TV or computer broadcasts while watching the games. As a sport starts to expand, so does the audience and some of that audience has real issues when watching games with the young children at home - the future of the game - that this type of language is not being addressed.
As more people join the hockey ranks from a variety of different backgrounds, they are now speaking out more frequently about the over the edge behavior of the players and the coaches.
To their credit, a lot of administrators are now taking steps to curb and condone the practice of allowing coaches and players to use profanity as a way to express their displeasure of an action or inaction on the ice.
Some governing bodies in hockey have a zero tolerance rule whether the language is coming from a player, coach or a fan. Each governing body has its own way of dealing with fan ejections.
Alfonso Botchagalupe, a longtime official, who works a number of leagues in the east, said “I personally have a problem when an official has to stop the game and engage themselves with one of the fans. My personal thought is I don't go to a movie and talk to the screen - maybe the fans should take that same approach and stop screaming at us when we’re doing our jobs.”
In today's society, it is increasingly common to hear an official being assaulted after a game for interacting with the fan during the course of the game and as a result the game was suspended because of the fan’s actions. What we need are more league administrators in the ranks to help condone and control the behavior in the stands that is also making it very difficult for us to keep officials in the building. It is a major problem as to why the pool of officials continues to shrink.
Alfonso sometimes travels 45-50 minutes for a game.
“I have to leave my family and get to the rink where I am going to get verbally abused and in some cases threatened by some parent because his son or daughter was removed from a game for a violent penalty,” Botchagalupe said. “There is no accountability on the players’ part. Am I wrong for enforcing safety? What are these people thinking?”
If coaches and parents continue to verbally abuse and threaten officials with physical harm, the small amount of games that are currently being played with one official, or in some cases no officials, will continue to increase and be harmful to the game of hockey.
From an administrative standpoint, with more and more new officials entering the ranks of officiating, we really need them to focus on rules and mechanics, but we also need them to understand where and when to penalize when the F bomb is used.
If a player is showing frustration about a penalty called or not called and it isn’t audible to those beyond the immediate vicinity, it should be let go for exactly what it is - frustration.
However, when everyone in the building can hear it or it is directed personally towards the official, the player must be assessed the proper penalty.
Eugene Binda is the President of Referees Crease LLC assigning and developing ice hockey officials in the East since 1982. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.