Dan O'Halloran

One of the most interesting parts of 24/7 came when referee Dan O’Halloran was warning Max Talbot that he was going to get a penalty after two near-infractions on the same shift that he let go.

He hollers at him: “you’re gonna get one Max, careful, you’re going to get one.” Talbot makes a third physical play after that – clearly not a penalty – and gets a penalty.

O’Halloran follows up with him “I told you you were gonna get one Max.” Basically, he felt Talbot has accumulated a penalty, an interesting concept in itself.

The point is, he gave Talbot the opportunity to understand that he was on the fringe, and Talbot still (unwisely) pushed it. When he gets out of the box, the same ref followed up with him again, admitting “that was a bad call” (talking about his own call) “but sometimes you accumulate things.”

We see more examples of communication from the refs when one heads over to talk to an irate Peter Laviolette who, while angry, is respectful enough to switch from eff bombs to “frickin.” The ref explained why he didn’t call a penalty when Jagr was taken down, and why he called a penalty on Philadelphia shortly after that. Laviolette was still enraged, but at least he understood the refs thought process.

And, in the first episode, we had a ref explain to John Tortorella why Artem Anisimov got an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for his “gun-shooting” gesture.

These are all examples of something you see the higher up you move in hockey – respectful, reasonable conversations between adults explaining why they’re doing what they’re doing. Sometimes it gets heated, sometimes not, but the communication lines are open.

As I wrote this morning, it’s infuriating when you have a dictator-style ref that won’t talk to the coach, and will only talk to the captain. It leads to guys swearing at him, him getting more angry, and the game devolving.

The improvement in communication was the thing I noticed most as I moved up leagues.

In junior, you have refs that can full-on ruin a hockey game. A few bad calls (or a few missed calls), a few snarky words with the players, shutting down communication with coaches, and boom: you have the recipe for a game to get out of hand.

In the ECHL, the refs are a lot like the players. Often physically capable of doing their job well, but for whatever reason, they just have some glaring flaw in their game. Some men just don’t have the proper demeanor to take the inevitable abuse and keep a level head. Some days you end up with a ref that wants to fight your coach as much as your coach wants to hit him, and no one wins.

A zebra that’ll actually listen (as opposed to just waiting for their turn to speak as many do) and thoroughly explain themselves acts as a pressure-release valve. You don’t have to agree with the decision the guy made, but if he doesn’t explain his thought process, coaches can end up thinking the fix is in.

I’d love to see this type of access year round in the NHL. It shouldn’t be that hard to at least have a referee from each night give a few quotes to reporters so we don’t end up, as we often do these days, wondering “what the hell was that guy thinking?”

Comments (5)

  1. I’m really fortunate that in my beer league my locker is right next to all the refs for our league. While they aren’t always forthcoming with information on the ice, it’s easy to talk to them about plays once we’re all off the ice and the games are over.

  2. Being a ref in any sport is a thankless job. It’s tough in the heat of the moment players forget refs are people too and do make mistakes like anyone else. Though there is nothing more annoying than one who doesn’t explain his decisions. For me when he does and he is consistent for the game I can accept that.

  3. I refereed for over a dozen seasons in young adult/adult hockey and always went out of my way to explain every call and noncall that I had time to explain. I also did the warning thing; my mouth was constantly talking to the players on most nights. Additionally, we all dressed in the same large room (southern hockey rinks, remember) and all talked about the game there. I had learned in the corporate world that Communication, Honesty, and Trying are the keys to earning respect from those around you. Many a player would tell me that I sucked, but that I sucked less than all the other refs in the league (hi praise in my mind). When I asked them if they thought I ever gave the game less than my best effort, they all said that they knew I was doing my best and that mattered to them.

    As a ref, do your best, communicate and admit that you arent perfect. The players (most of them) will appreciate you for it. They know the game would suck even worse if no one would ref it. And remember that its human nature to bitch and to get away with everything that you can.

  4. But Justin, you’re forgetting… The ref is ALWAYS against your team.

  5. I ref rep youth hockey and I agree that communication is a very valuable thing among the game participants. But there ARE times to communicate with the coach through a captain. More than once I have protected a coach from his own lack of respectful discretion in his choice of demeanour when talking to me. Coaches can forfeit the privilege of a one on one at the bench when they have already displayed angry disrespect for my efforts to communicate with them directly. Also, the higher the level of hockey, the more the coaches and players understand the game and get why you call what you do and don’t call other insignificant scenarios. Reffing is a sophisticated art that is never perfected, as is playing.

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