Boston Bruins v Buffalo Sabres

In the past, Backhand Shelf has brought perspective from the many different angles of hockey. The doctors, the coaching, the strategy, the goalies and more. In the future, we’ll periodically be bringing you stories from the oft-ignored person on the ice, the referee. If you’d like to share a Refs’ Perspective story with us, hit me up at

Our first contribution comes from Stu Campana, a referee who works in the Netherlands’ 1st division (where Dale Weise spent the lockout). Thanks to him for sharing this story; we’re looking forward to having more from him. By the way, Stu also writes about renewable energy, so check out his blog here if you’re into that or want to know more about it.


-by Stu Campana

The first cookie clattered to the ice with a soft thunk, skittering toward the blueline like I might mistake it for some oatmeal-flavoured puck.

When a foreign object arrives on the ice, a referee’s situational analysis is fairly short. Either something has been accidentally dropped, or else my officiating has not met with unanimous approval. A second cookie ringing off my helmet narrows down the list.

Time to stop play, much as I’d like to coax more snack food onto the ice. I look up into the stands and a middle-aged man grins back at me, holding his 10-year-old son with one arm and a bag of crumbly cookies with the other. I recognized him as a gentleman from the home team, whom I had ejected from the game sometime during the 2nd period.

He launches another at my head, in case I hadn’t already made the connection. Referees are dumb like that.

“Time to leave the building”, I said.

“No”, comes the response.

Now comes the first pressure point. Referees – good referees – wield authority like a razor blade: definitive, but subtle, and always adaptable. Youth hockey players automatically assume that the referee is the law. Although conditioned to protest calls in the strongest of terms, they continue to view the referee’s judgement as an inevitability, just as one might protest the weather.

Older players understand that a referee can make mistakes. He may not be human, but he is certainly fallible. A referee’s authority here requires more than just a flexing of the orange armbands. Too strong, and the push-back will spiral the game out of control. Too weak and the game will spiral out of control. Find the middle ground and the game may spiral out of control anyway.

The referee holds precisely two hostages: the outcome of the game and the player’s ability to participate. Even in the NHL, where both are strong motivators, players and coaches routinely lose their minds. Competitive senior leagues provide a mix of guys wanting to win and guys wanting to check out the hot chick in the third row. Beer leagues tend to be replete with players whose motivations range from “perform bowel surgery on an opponent with my stick” to “perform bowel surgery on an opponent with my stick and then complain they were holding me”. Consequently, these leagues tend to pay their officials relatively well.

It’s worth noting, as I stand at center ice facing off against the cookie man, that this particular league – the Netherlands 1st Division – pays me like crap. In fact, I haven’t been paid at all yet, since it’s my first game, but herein lies my problem. I don’t yet understand what motivates this man. Presumably not hunger. It’s the Netherlands, so the hockey isn’t great (Vancouver’s Dale Weise tore up this league during the lockout), but it is professional hockey so presumably the players aren’t entirely disinterested.

He starts yelling at me in Dutch. I listen politely for awhile because it’s a pretty language with a lovely lilting cadence, but since I don’t understand a word I’ll shortly have to choose a course of action.

Ideally, I would be able to take his child hostage until he leaves. Instead, I skate up to the Canadian on the offending man’s bench – Canadians are easy to pick out in foreign hockey leagues because they are 100% more obnoxious than the locals.

“Go tell him the game won’t start until he leaves.”

“Ah c’mon, he just wants to stay and watch.”

“And your team will forfeit the game.”

Like a parent bribing a troublesome child, I’ve quickly depleted my bag of threats. If this doesn’t work I’ll have to decide between starting the game anyway and explaining to the relevant authorities why I called a 2-2 game in the middle of the 3rd period. Both options put a taste in my mouth that even the half-frozen cookie sitting at the hash marks couldn’t clear out.

The message conveyed, my cookie-tossing friend starts to move then stops by the entrance. Now it’s time for my best, “I-am-infinitely-patient-and-would-not-feel-pressure-even-if-Dustin Byfuglien-were-playing-Dance-Dance-Revolution-on-my-back” face. I consider pretending to smoke a cigarette. I channel all of the authority a skinny foreigner with complete ignorance of the local language can muster.

And then he’s gone. Authority deftly brandished in razor-blade style, I return to my regularly scheduled program of making terrible calls and gaining absolutely no friends.

At least I can eat cookies between whistles.

Comments (18)

  1. that was a great read! i hope he writes again soon

  2. Does Mr Campana ref in the Eredivisie (top tier league, where Dale Weise played) or the eerste divisie (“first division”, which is in fact the second division, just to keep things simple)? The terminology is confusing, and while I’ve seen my share of unprofessionalism in the Eredivisie, I like to think they’re a step above throwing baked goods from the stands. Maybe. Hopefully.

    Very entertaining read either way. Looking forward the rest of the series.

  3. I don’t yet understand what motivates this man. Presumably not hunger.

    Great line.

  4. The cookies were obviously not speculaas! No self respecting Dutchmen would throw those around with such disregard.

    Are the games played along the canals?

  5. Brilliant. Not only was it witty and amusing, but it gives me stupid fodder with which to rib my Dutch friend (who plays in Belgium just to top off this bizarre European hockey odyssey)

    Would be great if Stu could become some sort of (semi) regular contributor

  6. This brings me back to reffing as a teen.
    I never had cookies thrown at me, but do recall having a water bottle thrown at me that just missed hitting me in the back of the head by about 4 inches

  7. Thanks for the story.

  8. Great read, taking on a battle with the cookie monster sounds like a true trial of will.

  9. Great article. I play goal and people always say goalies are crazy. I say refs are crazy. You are deciding to go to a job where everyone hates you.

    If you perform at your very best, no one cares or notices. If you are a little off people will lob profanities at you for an hour. If you really aggravate people they will start dumping in the puck at eye level off the boards at which you are standing.

    They must be masochists.

    • That’s funny. I coach a team with a guy who refs. I told him when the ref irritates me with a call or non-call, I fire dump-ins and break outs at their heads. I don’t yell or scream but you better duck and keep an eye on the puck.

  10. “He starts yelling at me in Dutch. I listen politely for awhile because it’s a pretty language with a lovely lilting cadence, ”

    Ahahahahaha. Clearly his helmet was blocking his ears (I would make a joke about him having smoked something but thats too obvious) because in no way shape or form is Dutch a pretty language. Vulgar, harsh and/or horrible sounding are more appropriate words…..

  11. Performance of love can be sticky, affectionate air jordan son of marsdedication and blessing, and even concessions each person in different ways, will lead to mixed results. My way blindly to pay his way completely care, both of them right at first glance, but no matter what way, the middle less an element called "communication", it is easy to cause cracks.

  12. That was rare…. A ref with a sense of humor.

    • Maybe you’re the problem? The majority of the referees in my beer league have a great sense of humor and are out there having fun like us. I refereed for 10 years or so and had a good sense of humor about it as well. The only time the sense of humor didn’t show up was when I had to deal with someone being an ass.

      • There are two kinds of refs: the ones who do it because the game needs it (and they’re usually pretty cool guys), and the ones who do it because THEY need it (and are a real pain).

        The two do not distribute among leagues evenly. Leagues that pay attention will recruit the first type and shun the second. Leagues that are no good will accumulate the jerks, because the good guys won’t like working with them (or the abuse they’re take because of them).

        I’ve played in both kinds of leagues, and assume that RinkRaith hasn’t found one of the better ones.

      • It can go both ways. I’ve played in leagues where one game the refs are great, easygoing with you, and others where they’re either petty tyrants, incompetent or a little of both. Generally it depends on how well the league backs and treats its refs. If the league trusts and respects the officials, the officials trust and respect the players. Then you have those games where you might not agree with the guy’s calls but he’ll talk to you like a real human and maybe even joke here or there. If not, the refs feel like they’re taking hazard pay to deal with knuckleheads who really could hurt them. We’ve all heard stories about guys “accidentally” clearing pucks off glass, right where stripes is standing…oh sorry bud, didn’t see ya there. After a while the smart ones wonder if it’s really worth the $50 or whatever. What’s left are guys who need the money and thus don’t really care about the game, or guys who don’t have anything better to do.

    • I agree with Paul. I always had a fun relationship with the refs as I played a lot and everyone knew each other. Only the real serious D bags committing stupid penalties had issues with the refs. After all, someone has to do it.

      Funny part is that if they liked you and there was something questionable happening… usually the A hole nobody liked wasn’t going to get the benefit of the doubt.

  13. Cookies the lucky bugger, the best we get are clip boards and water bottles.

    Though you have to be as good as Rick Looker to get money tossed at you!
    Latvians still hail him as their prototype of the coin operated official

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *