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Cornered Coach: Earning Your Stripes


I broke one of my own rules last week.

As a passionate young coach in my early-20's, I developed a bad habit of "critiquing" referees; a nice way of saying that I sometimes went a little over the top.

"Hey ref! Give your head a shake… Your eyeballs are frozen up!"

Witty gems such as that.

As I got older, however, I realized that I was just wasting my breath. No matter how much you scream and stomp your feet, a referee never changes his call, so there's no point in blowing your stack. I'm proud to say that I've lived by that philosophy for the past twenty years, as my relationship with referees vastly improved.

But last week, old feelings bubbled to the surface.

Up in the stands as a fan for my little lad's Minor Atom AA conference final, I was enjoying the action in an exciting 0-0 game. My guy's squad needed a win to stay alive in the series and were working their tiny butts off. Suddenly, the puck sprang free and the opposition raced away on a breakaway. I was especially interested in this development, since my son happens to be the goaltender on his club. 

The shot… a mass of bodies to the net… the delayed reaction of the ref, who was late arriving to the scene… and then the heartbreaking "Goal!" sign.

Wait a minute, though.

All of our little guys started jumping up and down, adamant that the puck never entered the net. Even my guy behind the mask, normally shy and reserved, wasn't happy with the call.

Of course, the goal stood and we ended up losing the game 1-0, a defeat that officially sent us to the start of the baseball and soccer season. Later, video showed exactly what the players had been protesting – the puck never did enter the net.

But that's not the issue which irritated me the most. Players, goalies, coaches (and yes, parents) make lots of mistakes during the course of a hockey game. So when a referee blows a call, we need to cut them a little slack. However, when an official does find themselves in the middle of a controversy, they need to have some "hockey sense" to properly assess the situation. 

Following the controversial goal call, there were a number of instances where the referee could have given our team a power play as a bit of a peace offering. Not to go into too much detail, but when one of your players is flying headfirst through the air after receiving a blatant crosscheck, that might be a good time to stick your arm up in the air.

No dice.

We didn't receive a single power play down the stretch and as the referee made his exit, our coaches and parents let him have it.

"Great hockey sense," I said as the ref rolled by. "When there's a controversial call, you might want to toss us a bone and at least give us a power play."

But, as we discussed earlier, you never win an argument with a man in stripes and the referee simply walked by our angry mob with a big grin on his face.

I still believe that there's no upside in beaking off to a referee. For one thing, it's important to give them the proper respect. But refs also have to do a better job of seeing the other side of the coin.

For the most part, referees are the only people in the rink getting paid for their involvement in minor hockey. So when they make a mistake, they should be held more accountable for their actions.

No, you should never abuse an official. But, at times, there's nothing wrong with letting them know that they made a mistake and that they need to look in the mirror.

Like players, goalies, coaches (and yes, parents), referees can learn from their mistakes and improve their craft.

But first they have to be open to constructive criticism and, buried in the frustration of seeing my little guy lose a tough game, that's what this week's blog is really all about. 

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