A Weekend in the Life of a Central Hockey League Official: Training Camp ‘07
Ever wonder if you could be a CHL official? Come on – you know you’ve yelled at ‘em but could you be one? Do you have even a vague idea what it’s like to skate within the game, there on the ice, in the mix of a 3-on-1 breakaway ending with the crash-n-bang of a possible goal?
I sorta know ‘cause I was there – at the 2007 Officials’ Camp, anyway. It was held in October just outside Dallas, TX. I flew into town and skidded into the clinic a few minutes late, at the NYTEX Sports Centre (it wasn’t my fault, I swear).
Friday evening At my seat for the first classroom session, I find my very own official’s manual, CHL ball cap and name plate. I’m feeling special already, and not just ’cause I’m a foot shorter than the rest of the guys. Wayne Bonney, the CHL’s supervisor of officials, introduces me and tells everyone I’m with the Hockey News, at the clinic to do a story. [see the December 4 ’07 issue, pg. 56] Class breaks at 10 pm and I’m finally able to grab dinner with some of the guys – and learn that referee Tudor Floru was on the cover of my 2005-07 USA Hockey Official Rules and Casebook.
Saturday, way early 8 am is apparently for skating drills. Let me clarify a little about my history: I’ve been ice skating for five-and-a-half straight years, not even counting the time I tried those double-bladed skates in kindergarten. Still, during one drill, I’m panicked. We’re all skating backwards, increasing our speed with each whistle. Except that I can’t go any faster without risking a fall, causing a pile-up and a quick end to the seasons of several very big guys. In the name of self preservation, I angle to the wall yelling, “Inside!” as skaters loom toward me. Several seem intent on playing chicken, veering away just before I’d be sent to the ice express mail, immediate delivery. Bless his heart; former NHL linesman Ray Scapinello encourages me to hang tough through a few more of his drills.
NHL official Jay Sharrers stops by to give the guys a few tips. Call me a nerd if you must, but I was really excited to meet him. Got my photo taken and gushed how cool it was that he was there. Told him I recognized him from a time I saw a game in Phoenix, when my seat was actually close enough to the ice to see faces. Yup, I notice the officials.
Later we watch the Texas Brahmas‘ intra-team scrimmage (rejoining the CHL – can I get a “hallelujah!” from the fans in the area). Former Scorpions goalie Cacciola was in a Brahma net. A rookie linesman sat with me and explained the camaraderie officials have for each other. While they don’t travel as an entity like a team does, they still experience the “all for one and one for all” that bonds a group with a common cause. Watching a NHL game on TV a week later, I notice how all four officials stand together at center ice before the start, winking and fist-tapping each other with encouragement for a great game.
Saturday evening Back at the hotel conference room, it’s pizza time. It’s also an opportunity to explore the undiscovered talents of rookies through initiation rites. But what happens in Hurst, TX… okay fine. I will say that a surprising number of them can sing quite well, and the farm boy from Saskatchewan could fool the animal itself with his rooster call.
Former linesman and current NHL supervisor of officials, Leon Stickle, sits with me and shares some great stories about team mascot mishaps, like the one about the pirate who caught on fire: he skated out onto the ice not realizing his feather was aflame. Of course the fans loved it, assuming it was part of the planned entertainment. Stickle had spoken to the CHL officials earlier in the day, closing his comments by wishing them, “Good luck with your dreams.” CHL Commissioner Emeritus and former official Tom Berry tells me his history of involvement with officiating kids way back when.
Sunday morning I catch up with Floru, who says, “The biggest thing I learned in my first season was – I had a game where one team had to kill a lot more penalties and was saying, ‘You’re picking on us.’ But they were blatant penalties. What I took from that was the importance of communication with the players and the coaches. To explain what’s going wrong and take preventative measures, give the players a chance to avoid the penalty by issuing a warning to play the puck or keep the stick down.”
Asked what he wants the world to know, Floru laughs before he says, “Be gentle.” Players blow it once or twice a shift and I’m betting he’s been tempted to tell them so after they yell about a couple questionable judgments per game. But he knows officials are expected to be perfect. Floru has advice for overcoming a rough streak of games. “Often, if you just go back to basics, review positioning and that sort of thing, it gets you out of those slumps.”
Before wrapping up camp, as we watch the final set of DVD clips of fast action that I still struggle to assess the perfect call for, I wonder: if the irate fan in the stands knew how many hours are spent discussing and dissecting calls, how the officials have to be able to skate as well as the players, how many dynamics come into play for a penalty, requiring a sophisticated knowledge of the intricacies of the game, how even coaches occasionally disagree among themselves on the severity of a penalty, would that fan still think he’d make a better official?
Duh – of course he would! (You were just about to call me ignorant, weren’t you.) Believe me or not, but I’ll attest that in general, officials are pretty much a bunch of flip-flop wearing, hockey-loving dudes like the rest of us (girls being girldudes, of course), just doing a job that at least 99% of us are generally clueless about and would be eaten alive trying. Eaten alive.
For more details about Camp, see the Dec. 4 2007 issue of The Hockey News.