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“Get Control of the Game Ref”

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"Get control of the game, ref!" A phrase most commonly heard when the game is quickly dissolving into a shitshow and there’s a penalty every other minute.

How does one "control" the game? Personally, I don’t think that COMPLETE control is ever possible. I always like to say that boys will be boys (a statement that applies equally to girls) and there will be times that, no matter how many penalties you call, they will continue to run around on the ice, unchecked.

I find myself very lucky to have only had a handful of those types of games, most of them this past season since I’ve been working more Bantam and higher level Peewee games. If I had any more than that, I probably would have given up on reffing a while ago.

Those kinds of games are preventable, sometimes, and this is where the ref having control comes in. Several weeks ago, I had a Bantam game that quickly went south after one particular hit. It wasn’t a bad hit, or illegal, but I could smell that this was the turning point of the game. (And after that, a player took out the goalie, there were two fights, and two kids were thrown out of the game.) In hindsight, maybe calling the penalty on that hit would have prevented any further nonsense. But in the moment, you have to make a judgment call. My partner, being older and more experienced, saw nothing wrong with the hit, explained it to the seething coach, and I let him have the final call.

A ref cannot control everything. If there’s a player who wants to run around and throw people through the boards, then that player is going to do so, no matter how many times you put him or her in the box. A ref cannot predict what a player is going to do and stop it from happening. All the ref can do is react to what has already happened. If there’s a bad hit, many times you’ll probably hear a parent yelling in the crowd for you to have better control of the game.

Referees can’t stop things from happening. Every penalty that’s called is a REACTION. A kid does something stupid, you put him or her in the box, and then either the other players see that and think "I better not do the same thing or that’s where I’ll end up" or they see it and go "well whatever." There’s only so much, as a ref, that you can do. After a certain point, if the game wants to become a shitshow, it will become one. You can fill up the score sheet with penalties, but if the kids have determined that all they want to do is beat the piss out of the other team, then, well, I see that as being on the coach. If a coach doesn’t teach his players to let the refs handle bad situations, then they’ll retaliate and fight back, and get angry when all of a sudden they’re getting a penalty too.

Example: in a Bantam game earlier in the season, one that was not so much a hockey game as it was a boxing match, a player came up, well after the whistle, and snowed the goalie. He was taking a trip to the box, no question about it. I hustled my butt over there to escort him to the penalty box, and to prevent a fight, but the goalie’s defenseman took it upon himself to retaliate, cross checking the player across the ice. 

When it comes to little scrums around the net, I tend to be somewhat lenient. Players protect their goalie, and they get very defensive about it. I would have had no problem whatsoever if this kid had come up and used his body to sort of push the kid away from him. Instead, he earned himself a trip to the box with his violent cross check that left the kid on the ice for several minutes. Snowing the goalie well after the whistle (and not in an attempt to stop yourself from running him over) was an obvious unsportsmanlike penalty, and had the defenseman just let the ref take care of the situation, his team would have had a powerplay. But he decided to take it into his own hands. But that’s the kind of game that it was. If that play had happened before the game turned into a UFC fight night main event, then maybe he would have let the kid sit in the penalty box, and his team would have had the man advantage. But it’s a game and it’s unpredictable. You can only work with what has been handed to you.

This article here talks about the same thing, just in case you wanted more material on the subject: http://www.si.com/nhl/2014/12/11/usa-hockey-referee-in-chief-talks-about-blown-calls-control-ofgame

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