Los Angeles Kings center Anze Kopitar is very familiar with many of the on-ice officials, as Kopitar is an alternate captain for the Kings and will often find himself beside the referees’ circle on behalf of his teammates.
“I just try to be as respectful as I can be in the heat of the moment,” says Kopitar. “I usually try to talk to them politely, not yell too much or curse too much and I guess they’re the same way with me. My relationship with all of them is actually pretty good, so I want to keep it that way.”
“Their job is definitely difficult – there are decisions in split seconds, and obviously they’re only human too,” continues Kopitar. “Sometimes they’re going to make the wrong call, but that’s the way it goes. It’s definitely a two-way street and you have to have respect for referees.”
One of the most challenging parts of the job, according to Shick, is having to make those split-second decisions. It’s those same decisions that will often draw chants of ‘ref you suck’ from an upset crowd.
“You only get to see things once in real time. Judgments in real time are never going to be perfect, especially when you’re involving judgment,” affirms Shick. “All you can do as a referee is get into the best possible position and get yourself the best angle to make the best judgment.”
If those judgments turn out to be incorrect, which can be determined immediately after via in-arena replay, or after the game during the post-game debrief with the Officiating Manager, officials do feel remorseful.
“Our guys are the first ones to admit if they see something on a replay and say ‘oh yeah, that’s not quite what I saw in real time,’” Shick concedes. “In an ideal world if you had the replay, would you make a different call? Sure you would.”
It is Shick’s job to ensure missed calls are kept at a minimum, and the post-game debriefs that take place after each game are comprised of video replays and breakdowns in order to maintain the learning curve for more inexperienced officials, as well as the high standard expected from everyone.
Officials are rewarded for their performance during the season by being chosen for the Stanley Cup Playoffs, as the playoff selection is based on the work each puts in for that year. 20 referees and 20 linesmen are picked for the first round of the playoffs and cuts are made for each subsequent round based on the previous rounds.
This season, in addition to being chosen for the playoffs, NHL officials have the opportunity to be chosen for the Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia, as the International Ice Hockey Federation, the governing body for the Olympics, has asked the NHL to send seven referees and six linesmen to work the tournament. Shick and colleague Terry Gregson have the privilege of being involved as well.
As far as NHL officials go, they are indeed a rare breed – they see the game from an officiating standpoint, they don’t cheer if their favorite team scores, and they certainly aren’t looking for their names in the paper to feel good about themselves.
“You don’t want to be liked, you just want to be respected. Our position is a necessary evil,” Shick admits.
There is that old saying about walking – or perhaps in this case, skating – a mile in someone’s shoes before judging them. In this case, that’s a pretty tough task, being that officials typically average about 7.5 miles per game (compared to a player’s 3.5).
Then there’s that other saying…somebody’s got to do it.
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*Special thanks to Dean Ferraro for writing in and suggesting this feature story topic*