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 Justin.Bourne@theScore.com.

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.

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-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.