Referees Should Be Commended

By Andy Kent
Copyright 2005, Naples Daily News

Referees are the Rodney Dangerfields of hockey – they never get any respect.

Go to any hockey arena around the continent and you will witness unending abuse of the man in stripes with an orange band around each arm, the man charged with keeping order on the ice among 10 big, burly men and two goaltenders on skates.

He gets it from the players, the fans, the coaches, and sometimes after the game from a team owner or general manager. All the while, the referee has to maintain his cool and stand by the calls he makes.

Unlike the players, who are allowed to fight on the ice, the referee can’t drop his gloves – well, figuratively, since he doesn’t wear any.

Many times during the high-speed action that is hockey, if the referee isn’t quick enough on his skates he can find himself on the wrong end of a vicious check.

Sometimes it’s as innocent as simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time, but other times it can be deliberate yet made to look incidental. And even if the referee knows it, he can’t pop back to his feet and throw a right hook to the jaw of the offending player.

Now, the hockey referee will tell you he’s no different than an umpire in baseball or a referee in football or basketball, in that all are the brunt of somebody’s frustrations.

But in hockey more so than in the other three, the referee truly can control the tempo and the outcome of the game. He is an easy spot for the fans and has to drown out the boos and the chants of “Ref, you suck.”

In some buildings, he has to ward off the food, drinks and other foreign objects raining down on him as he exits the ice after each period. Since his name is announced along with the players in the starting lineup, the referee must deal with the fact that the fans now can make it personal.

Yes, there are some refs who enjoy the ribbings and take advantage of the power at their disposal by deciding beforehand how they’re going to call the game and which players they’re going to pay extra close attention to.

Nine times out of 10, though, they still go out there with a professional attitude and the intention of doing a good job.

So it’s nice to see a referee complimented and recognized when he gets into a zone and calls a strong game, like ECHL ref Joe Ernst did April 26 in Greenville, S.C.

Ernst obviously looked at tapes of the first two games between the Florida Everblades and Greenville Grrrowl in the best-of-five American Conference semifinal series, and realized it was in his best interests to call a tight game.

The end result was a 2-1 overtime victory for Florida that eliminated the Grrrowl, but more importantly there were no fights and a distinct flow to the game. Ernst was quick to blow the whistle, but not too quick, and was judicious in matching up penalties.

“Joey’s a good ref, we’ve had him a lot, and he’s a good ref. He calls it pretty fair,” Everblades defenseman Tim O’Connell said.

So the next time you disagree with a call made by the referee, think about what it must be like out there on the ice before you fire that next verbal jab.

He might deserve it – but he also deserves your respect.