ECHL.com sat down with Vice President of Hockey Operations Rod Pasma, who is in his fourth season with the ECHL and his eighth season of supervising Officials, and asked him a series of questions about officiating in the ECHL.
Where does the ECHL get its Officials?
The Officials in the ECHL primarily come from the exact same places as our players. We recruit officials from the Canadian Hockey League, which is comprised of the Ontario Hockey League, the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and the Western Hockey League and from Tier II Junior “A” Leagues across Canada. We work with USA Hockey and its Officiating Program and we attend a few of the top officiating schools in North America looking for qualified officials. Recruiting officials is done in the same manner as coaches recruiting players with one major exception, there are a lot less officials to choose from than players. In addition, these officials are supplemented by veteran officials who have been in our league for several years.
What qualifications or credentials must an official have to be hired by the ECHL?
Again, the comparisons are the same as players. There are no set credentials or level an official must achieve before he works in the ECHL (or any other League for that matter). Some of the officials recommended to us are from areas that are removed from the mainstreams of hockey. It’s important that a young official has Junior Hockey experience whether in Canada or in USA Hockey. Those officials who are deemed to have potential are recommended by their Officiating Bodies and after doing ample research we may assign those officials to ECHL games. Once assigned to ECHL games, our officiating department will supervise the officials and rate their abilities to work in future ECHL games.
What kind of training do ECHL officials receive?
Officials train in different ways than players. Our full-time staff is mandated to come to camp in top physical condition and remain that way throughout the season. Outside of conditioning, the majority of training comes from actual game work. There are no practices or scrimmages that officials can partake in to improve their officiating. They must work games to improve such things as penalty selection, positioning and building a rapport with players and coaches. Just as players have coaches who are constantly coaching, teaching and practicing with them, officials have supervisors who teach and offer guidance, but officials do not have the luxury of having a supervisor with them every day.
Do ECHL officials move up to the American Hockey League and the National Hockey League like ECHL players?
Yes. We work closely with the NHL Officiating Department and the AHL Hockey Operations Department and jointly recognize officials who are prospects. Not unlike players, if the NHL and/or the AHL feel our officials are ready for the next level, they will assign them to games in the AHL. There over 40 officials on the AHL officiating staff who have ECHL experience including referees David Banfield, Ryan Fraser, Jamie Koharski and Nygel Pelletier and linesmen Jason Finley, Aaron Lundbohm and Brad Phillips.
There are 12 referees and five linesmen with ECHL experience on the NHL officiating staff and former ECHL Senior Vice President of Hockey Operations Randy Hall is a Manager of Officiating for the NHL. The referees with their first NHL season are Harry Dumas (2000), Bob Langdon (2001), Mike Leggo (1998), Wes McCauley (2003), Dean Morton (2000), Dan O’Rourke (1999), Brian Pochmara (2005), Kevin Pollock (2000), Chris Rooney (2000), Justin St. Pierre (2005), Jeff Smith (2005), Ian Walsh (2000) and Dean Warren (1999). The linesmen with their first NHL season are Steve Barton (2000), Brian Mach (2000), Tim Nowak (1993) Jay Sharrers (1990) and Mark Wheler (1992). Nowak began his officiating career in the ECHL and in 2003 became the first ECHL official to work in the Stanley Cup Finals.
Do coaches in the ECHL get the chance to evaluate officials?
Formally, coaches do not evaluate officials. However, through communications with the League Office, coaches have the means to express their opinions on any given official, both positive and negative.
Does the ECHL evaluate or grade its officials?
The ECHL Officiating Department employs five supervisors whose sole purpose is to coach, evaluate and grade the on-ice officials. One of the many goals of our department is to maintain a level of consistency within any given game. The supervisor’s role is to ensure our officials are enforcing the League mandates set forth at the beginning of the season and to coach officials in such areas as positioning, judgment, ability, etc. Every official receives a grade during our midseason ratings during which it is determined, based on the first half of the season, who could work the Kelly Cup Playoffs and who is not ready. At the end of the season, we have a year-end ratings meeting and determine who should work in the Kelly Cup Playoffs based on ratings over the course of the entire season.
New this season, any game in which a supervisor is present, the officials are handed a written evaluation of that game with a grade. They sign the form at the bottom to acknowledge receipt of the evaluation and then take a copy with them. At any given time they can go back and review the areas that need improvement as a reminder of what they need to work on in order to be selected for the playoffs.
Are officials ever disciplined?
Yes. Officials are disciplined in many different ways. They can be reprimanded, fined, lose games or, ultimately, be let go. We keep a file on each official at the League Office and documents are continually placed in their files, both positive and negative. Fans, coaches, and players perceive that we never discipline our officials. We, however, approach this much in the same manner as coaches who never discipline or reprimand their players publicly. It would be counterproductive and would make a difficult job more difficult.
Why do some officials work in the same cities all the time?
We do not have an unlimited budget to travel our officials to different cities every weekend. The ECHL has a number of apartments spread out across the United States both East and West. We house full-time officials in these apartments who work the majority of our games. The rest of the games are filled in by local officials and prospects we may be looking at for full-time work. We try not to overuse our officials in any city, but many factors out of our control can lead to this overexposure such as recalls or injuries. It’s important to remember that our Officials don’t like seeing the same teams on consecutive nights as much as our teams don’t like seeing the same official.
How are officials chosen for the Kelly Cup Playoffs?
Officials are chosen based on their evaluations from supervisors during the season. As is the case with a lot of our players, a few of our top officials will get games in the first or second round of the AHL playoffs which leaves us using a few of our top prospects working games in the first round of the Kelly Cup Playoffs. By the time the second round begins our on-ice staff is comprised of Officials who have been rated capable of working the second round.
Who makes the decision to review an incident?
The Hockey Operations Department will automatically review all stick, boarding and checking-from-behind game misconducts as well as all match penalties. The League Office may choose to review any incident based on the incident reports filed by the on-ice officials. In addition, team personnel may call and request the League to review any incident, provided they follow the guidelines set forth in our Playing Rules when requesting a review of incident.
If an incident occurs on Friday how come the player sometimes plays on Saturday or Sunday and other times the player doesn’t?
There are three penalties in the ECHL Rule Book that carry automatic one-game suspensions. If a player receives a match penalty, a checking-from-behind game misconduct or instigator/aggressor in the last five minutes of the game on Friday night that player will miss Saturday night’s game unless the penalty is rescinded. In cases where it is ruled the penalty was a deliberate attempt to injure, the League, in its sole discretion may suspend the player indefinitely pending review by the League Office.
The ECHL is unable to review video of most incidents that occur on the weekend until Tuesday of the following week because our Officials are not able to overnight a copy of the game tape to the League Office until Monday. The National Hockey League has the capability to review incidents immediately through satellites and live feeds whereas we must rely on courier services, inevitably leading to delays on some suspensions.
How do you determine the length of a suspension?
There are many variables that go into the decision-making process of suspending a player. Criteria used includes: was the incident illegal; time of the game at which the incident occurred; was there an injury; was the incident premeditated; is the player a repeat offender? In some cases, we elect to hold hearings with the player and his coach although the video usually tells us everything we need to know. Issuing suspensions or fines is not something that the League takes lightly. Rarely do you find two incidents that are the same which does not allow a ‘cookie-cutter’ method of enforcement. However, past incidents serve as precedence and we try to ensure penalties are consistently sanctioned. This is the most difficult responsibility bestowed on the Hockey Operations Department.
Why won’t officials in the ECHL let players fight?
Players who engage in simultaneous altercations will be permitted to do so. Our officials have been instructed to separate players who wish to dance around, remove their equipment and make a big production of the altercation. Officials will also intervene if the players fall to the ice, if one player appears to be injured or if a player has an unfair advantage. The ECHL has taken tremendous strides in removing certain unnecessary parts from our game and the days of four to five altercations per game are gone. The role of enforcer has always been a difficult one, but now these players must be able to play hockey as well.