Monday, September 8, 2008


Hockey fans across the world acknowledge the fact that the NHL is the premiere league to play in. What most people never really consider, is the fact the NHL is probably the most difficult league to officiate. When you're in my shoes and you get a chance to meet the extraordinary people that uphold the integrity of the great game of hockey at the NHL level (most recently Brian Murphy, Ian Walsh and Kevin Collins), you understand the kind of dedication and self-less devotion it takes to do what these men do on a daily basis.

The biggest misconception that fans have about referees and linesman are that they are there to completely control the game. While this is true in some respects, the best officials are those that do not effect the outcome of the game, rather they manage the proceedings in what can only really be referred to as an art form. In this respect, hockey officials have the most demanding job of any sport officiating crew. This is not basketball, football or baseball. In those sports, the officials are generally out of harms way. In hockey, the object of the officials is to be in the thick of the play and thinking and reacting as fast as the players do. To put it lightly, not everyone can be an ice hockey official at the highest level of the sport. First and foremost, physical fitness is an absolute necessity. Not far behind are the needs of being an elite skater and knowing the myriad of rules so that when assessing a penalty or explaining a situation to a captain or coach, one doesn't come across as not doing they're job. The fitness and the skating I can't address through words, but with the rules I can, specifically with the Standard of Play initiative that began after the lockout.

First, let's go over some of the basics. Obviously hockey is a game of hitting, passing, shooting and even fighting. The biggest thing that some fans of the game struggle with is the penalties and why they are called. In this "new NHL" landscape everything that fans knew of the teams in the 80's and 90's, playing "clutch and grab" or "trap" hockey, has given way to a faster, more skill-oriented game where players are rewarded or penalized based on their ability to read and keep up with the play. Today's NHL sees so many more penalties being called because of the fact that opponents are now no longer able to simply slow a player down using their stick, free hand or body. This brings us to the Standard of Play of the modern NHL.

There are several buzz phrases that you'll often see to describe the new enforcement: "impeded progress", "established skating lane", "parallel to the ice", "free hand", "lower portion", "on the hands" and "just a tug". These are the basis for recognizing what is and possibly what is not an obstruction penalty in the NHL. As an official you're looking for any one of these situations and properly making the judgment call in a split second is a necessity. In the following series of blogs I will go over each of the penalties of emphasis and give a better explanation as to what determines a penalty and why fans have certain misconceptions about the calls that are made.

By the time the Islanders training camp begins in Moncton on Saturday 9/20/08, I'll bring you the first installment geared towards covering the five areas of emphasis: Hooking, Holding, Interference, Tripping and Slashing. To begin the series of blogs, I'll address the oft misinterpreted penalty of HOOKING and the different situations and actions that attribute to a player either being called for a penalty or what is allowed and a part of the game of hockey.

For questions, comments and bonehead calls e-mail me at

No comments: