When the regular season winds down and games start to dry up, you may wonder what a referee is to do when they want to keep their skills up to par. There just aren’t enough youth hockey games to go around, so where do they turn? The men’s leagues.
Reffing a men’s league game is remarkably similar to reffing a peewee hockey game–you get that one guy who’s ten times better than everyone else, competition can either be completely lopsided or dead even, and all anyone wants to do is fight each other.
If you’ve played in a men’s league, you know that it has its moments. There’s great camaraderie on the bench, in general everyone is pretty friendly, and let’s not forget the copious amounts of beer. But once you switch allegiances and don the stripes, you have become Public Enemy #1.
The best/worst part about working a men’s league game is that there are no coaches. It’s good because you don’t have to answer to anyone when they demand to know why you didn’t call that super obvious penalty on that guy, but it’s bad because every player thinks they have the knowledge of a coach, and they are not afraid to tell you that you suck at your job. Also, they smell. Bad. Really bad. One night my partner came up to me and said, "Have you walked past that guy sitting over there yet? Don’t." I mean, how hard is it to at least open your bag after you stuff all your sweaty equipment back in it?
Just to give you an idea of how fun reffing in men’s league can be, I’ve compiled a short list of my favorite moments for your reading pleasure:
- When I was sitting in my very first referee seminar, to become a level one ref, someone raised their hand and asked: "Can we do men’s league games?" to which the response was: "Can you breathe?"
- Getting my first ever game assignment for men’s league and going into it thinking "oh this won’t be so bad", only to have to break up a fight in the first period. (And let me tell you–breaking up a fight between grown men when you’re only 5′ 5" is vastly different from breaking up "fights" between peewee players.)
- Coming up with this short and sweet description of what adult/men’s league is like: "Basically it’s like reffing for a squirt team, except they’re not as cute and fun to watch when they fall down."
- Realizing that after 9 pm no one really cares about penalties or icings anymore so you can pretty much just coast up and down the ice and wave your arms half heartedly in the air for goals and offsides.
- "Reffing men’s league is all about survival. I know guys who won’t go more than halfway into the zone because they don’t want to die." Probably the most practical advice I’ve gotten thus far.
- Skating up near the boards to follow the play, thinking that the guy who had just chipped the puck up for a pass was paying attention, and then realizing that he wasn’t when he runs right over you, and everyone on the benches and the ice stops to stare as you force yourself to get back on your skates instead of rolling around on the ice and whimpering like you really want to.
- Having that moment of realization when you learn that you don’t have to take anyone’s shit because you’re the ref and you have the whistle, and the whistle = power.
- This conversation between my ref partner and a player: “Come on ref, that’s bullshit! You gotta open your eyes!” “Why, so I can watch you play like shit?”
- Having all the players come up and shake your hand after the game despite the fact that they might have been screaming at you in rage just moments before.
If there’s one thing that reffing men’s league can do for you, it’s that it will prepare you to deal with tense situations in youth hockey with quiet confidence. Because if you can tell that overweight, probably tipsy guy to calm the hell down as he rages about the things that you didn’t call on the ice, you can tell anyone that. That 12-year-old kid demanding to know why he’s being put in the penalty box? Please. No harder than calming down an agitated puppy.