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When a hook is not a hook

March 24, 2011 General No Comments

By Ken Brody
Oct 23, 2001, 18:27


Striper Ken Brody

How often are you watching a hockey game when you see a player fouled, only to have no penalty called by the on-ice official? I’m sure it’s quite often, especially in professional hockey.

Why does this happen? Because calling every infraction isn’t always the best policy. In fact, the best referees are usually those who (we hear it all the time) “let the players play,” and call penalties—not allthe time—but at the right moments.

Why shouldn’t you as a referee whistle down every single “foul” that you see? First of all, even if you try, you cannot possibly see every infraction committed. You only have two eyes, and the ice is simply too big. Second, you could be setting too exacting a standard for yourself—a standard that could well come back to haunt you. If you let even one “questionable” penalty go uncalled, you will anger and confuse the players, and earn the most dangerous tag of all for a referee: inconsistent.

Third, there will just be too many stoppages in play. The game will drag on, and the players (and, at the professional level, the fans) won’t like it.

Everyone—players, coaches and fans—wants the game fairly called, not overly called.


What’s the situation?

So if judgment is critical, what are the main criteria for calling penalties? Here are some circumstances and situations where penalties should be called.

• Infractions that have the potential to cause injury, such as cheap shots and blind-side fouls.

• Infractions that prevent potential scoring chances and breakaways.

• Infractions that result in an unfair change of possession.

• Infractions involving interference with and/or checking the goalie in the goal crease.

Those are situations where a penalty is almost always appropriate. There are also some other criteria for calling penalties, but only under certain circumstances. They include:

• Fouls which, left uncalled, continue to build up and create an atmosphere or increase the potential for a more serious situation to arise.

• Fouls involving obscene language and gestures, either to incite an opponent or—more seriously—which is directed towards the official.

• Accidental contact which causes injury, or “dangerous” situations you might observe.


What not to call

So if those are examples of what an official should call, what should he or she stay away from? Things like these:

• Incidental contact. A situation where two players are chasing the puck and end up having no place to go but into each other. While there may be extreme or even severe contact, in most cases no penalty is called.

• Minor clutch and grab. A hook, hold, or small (non-violent) slash that is released immediately and does not affect the play.

• Minor flare-ups. A situation where two players push, rough, or low-key slash each other and then separate immediately, allowing the game to go on.

The ref can actually help prevent penalty infractions from occurring if he follows a referee’s credo: Be vocal, be visible. If the players know the ref is watching them in certain situations, and he tells them exactly when to “cut it out,” the hostilities usually cease. Another referee rule, if not quite a credo, is to make sure that the first penalty you call in a game is a good penalty—not a borderline call. It sets the tone for the rest of the contest, and can get players to work either with you or—if it’s a bad call—against you.


Be consistent

Another important aspect is to keep one style of refereeing for an entire game, and do not change it in mid-stream. Whether you call the game loose or tight, do it that way for the whole game. Any change of style during a game will confuse and anger everybody—the players, the coaches, and your partner referee.

Angry players take out their frustrations on their opponents, and you will therefore have created a potentially dangerous situation. No one wants to play under these conditions.

The more experience you get, and the better you get to know the tendencies of players in certain game situations (and, likewise, as they get to know your tendencies) the fewer problems and less violence you will have on the playing surface.

If you stick to the principles discussed here, over the long haul you will eventually find yourself having to call fewer penalties. You might even get some respect!


Ken Brody has been a referee for ice, floor and roller hockey for 20 years in New York, Illinois, and California.

This first appeared in the 04/1995 issue of Hockey Player Magazine®
© Copyright 1991-2011 Hockey Player® and Hockey Player Magazine®


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