Refs Challenged By New Regulations
While the players are adjusting to the new rules, hockey referees are dealing with new challenges, too.
“The officials did not drive this change,” said Dick Bressett, of Thetford, who has been a hockey ref for more than 20 years. “My role as an official (in the upper-level games) is to be more like a policeman. We look for body position and how the player uses his hands. ... Anything that gains a physical advantage can be looked at as a penalty.”
But, as Bressett, points out, it’s not so easy sometimes to determine if there was a penalty. And that is true at all age levels — deciding whether the hit is incidental, accidental or intentional.
“Some officials think that it’s more difficult to referee Peewee games because it’s so hard to determine what to allow … with stick position and the raising of arms or hands.
“Kids grow in different stages. Some of those older Bantams are 6 feet tall, while a younger kid may be half a foot shorter. The big kid does everything right — using the proper angle, not overextending his arms, staying in his skating lane — but just because he is so much taller it appears he has raised his arms toward the other player’s head. Is that a penalty?”
The do’s and don’ts of checking are relatively simple — keep the hands in, stick down (not extended) and deliver the check to the torso, not below the knees and not above the shoulders. What you can’t do is hit from behind, or charge — defined as taking more than two strides — toward an opponent.
One of the problems Bressett encounters at the youth level comes early in the season when kids are just coming out of youth football. “In football, the kids are taught to drive up and through when they are hitting. In hockey, you drive straight and through the player. It takes a while to straighten those things out.”
Bressett believes some of the problems can be addressed through education — for the coaches and the players. Before the season, he is assigned to visit a number of Vermont high school teams to explain what referees are looking for. (He also will speak to any youth hockey team in Vermont or New Hampshire if he is invited). “In a lot of situations, I call penalties as a way to instruct players how to (check) correctly,” said Bressett. “But the coaches have to do their part, too. When they teach checking they need to stress how important body position is and teach not only how to hit, but how to take a hit.
“You just have to remember that I’m old school. You can’t take the hitting out of hockey. The question is when to do it.”
Donald Mahler can be reached at email@example.com or 603-727-3225.