At the end of a hockey game, players often hear “good job” and coaches are recognized by their team, parents and community members. But routinely referees leave the ice with little recognition.
And sometimes it’s to the sounds of heckling.
Last month in Hague, two referees said they ended a bantam hockey game in the third period over concerns for their own safety, fans allegedly hurling insults and making threats. The RCMP were called and the officials were escorted to their vehicles. A coach was suspended for three games and two referees have been removed from officiating games in the league.
In light of the events, the Southey and District Recreation Board, along with the Southey and District Lions Club, chose to recognize their hockey referees prior to the Bantam “D” playoff game held in Southey Feb. 19.
“We just thought it was time to appreciate the behind the scenes people,” said Lisa Macomber, a member of the Southey and District Recreation Board.
Prior to the puck drop at the Southey-Davidson game, Macomber, on behalf of the recreation board and local Lions club, presented area referees with gifts of gratitude, each referee called to the ice to receive their present. Some made their way from the stands, others from the Southey player’s box.
“We want you all to know how appreciated you are,” said Macomber to those gathered.
“If we didn’t have these guys, we wouldn’t have hockey,” she said.
Colby Bruce, 15, became an official to learn more about the game he loves to play. Over his five seasons officiating, he said he’s learned to tune the fans in the stands out, paying more attention to the coaches and players.
“I think you kind of have to,” agreed fellow referee and former hockey player Braden Istace, 15. Istace, also in his fifth year, recognized that it’s impossible to make everyone happy with the calls he makes in any given game.
During a hockey game, officials are tasked with making sure the game is both safe and fair, penalizing any infractions that threaten player safety and those that take away a good scoring chance. According to the Saskatchewan Hockey Association, there is some flexibility in determining what infractions will and will not be penalized in order to ensure a fair game. The association states it is the spirit or intent of a rule that determines an infraction rather than a rule’s literal wording.
“(Refereeing) is a lot harder than it seems,” said Kody Macknak, 16. The 16-year-old also began officiating because of his love for the game.
“Sitting in the bleachers is always a different perspective,” noted Macomber.
While all three referees recognize challenges to officiating, the trio also see benefits. Istace said he views refereeing as a way to help his community. Bruce noted officiating has helped his own skills as a hockey player, giving him a deeper understanding of the calls being made while he is on the ice.
“You have more respect for the referees when you’re playing,” he said.
Macknak recognized the skills gained through officiating could also help later in life.
All three said they felt a sense of accomplishment being recognized prior to the game Sunday.
Recreation board representative Macomber acknowledged the importance of showing gratitude to officials after each hockey game, as well as the importance of supporting the referees when they are on the ice.
“As a parent we need to support those calls, support those refs, because without them, there wouldn’t be hockey,” Macomber said.
She is encouraging other communities to take the time to recognize those officiating on and off the ice. The local recreation board is already talking of recognizing both ball and soccer officials. To her knowledge, Macomber said this is the first time the community has recognized its hockey referees. But while it was a first, she said the idea was well received by both the board and the Lions club.
Macomber said the hope is the recognition will encourage current officials to continue refereeing and younger players to consider becoming an official.