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The Impossible Dream of Good NHL Refereeing

By May 7, 2010

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Ian Laperiere and Ref

Every Stanley Cup Playoff game delivers a fat file of new evidence in the case against NHL referees.

All other topics of morning-after chatter are usually lost in a tizzy over penalties called, penalties not called, and disallowed goals.

The turn for the absurd comes when disappointed fans conjure theories of hidden agendas, persecuted heroes, and Gary Bettman as officiating puppet master.

The delusions of the hysterical fringe run wild, thanks to the Internet.

More reasonable complaints of incompetence and inconsistency are often justified.

But if fans can never agree among themselves about what defines good officiating, it's safe to say the NHL will never defuse the outrage of springtime, no matter how hard it tries.

One of the first lessons of sport, especially if you have any kind of rooting interest, is that officiating is just one screw-up after another.

Whether it's the call at home plate, the pass interference flag, or just about anything resulting in a penalty kick in soccer, the red-faced fan, howling at injustice, is a fixture anywhere you'll find games played for spectators.

That's not because your favorite league hires bad referees, or won't enforce the rules, or hates your team, or coddles Sidney Crosby because he's Bettman's secret love child.

It's because officiating is a formidable job. Mistakes are routine, ubiquitous, inevitable. Even the best refs and umpires blow it, dozens of times every day.

With its speed, intensity, intricacies and razor-thin line between legal and illegal tactics, hockey might be the most challenging game of them all.

Add dozens of officials, bringing their peculiarities, temperaments, and experiences to the task, ask them to apply a huge and ever-changing rulebook, and it's a wonder NHL refereeing isn't much worse than what we usually see.

Good, consistent refereeing, night after night, is simply too much to ask. It's the impossible dream.

That doesn't mean we should stop whinging about it - another impossible dream - but the paroxysms of playoff time might ease a little is we saw the blown call the same way we see broken sticks, bad bounces, and untimely injuries.

That's sport.

(Photo: Bruce Bennet/Getty Images.)


May 12, 2010 at 3:43 pm
(1) Eric says:

“whinging”? Uh, spell check. I know, minor point.

I can see missing stuff, being fooled by dives, but when I see a goalie’s mask knocked off as someone runs into him, not being pushed into the goalie, and nothing called, that’s when I I say no excuses can be made for that. It’s the blatant stuff that fans see and no call made that makes the officiating such a joke. When the fans see it and the refs don’t, and you hear the arena yelling about it, that’s when it becomes hard to respect the officials.

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