Communication Breakdown: The Problem with British Hockey Officials

Heather ParryCorrespondent IApril 8, 2008

Having a drink in the Nottingham branch of Hooters between matches this Playoff finals weekend, the conversation came around to the state of refereeing in British hockey.

With referee Moray Hanson putting in two fairly disgraceful performances in the semi-final and the final itself, we wondered why this individual with a reputation for being inconsistent at best and blatantly biased at worst was chosen to officiate the most important games of the calendar. 

The reason is this: there simply isn’t anyone better. 

Of course, it can't be an easy job - it's a no-win situation most of the time, and even if they call a match perfectly, refs will still have at least one set of fans on their back by the time the final buzzer sounds. That's just the way it is.

Yet there's a veritable gulf between the competence of NHL officials and those over in Britain. So what is it that makes the Brits so bad?

The compulsion, of course, especially when your team have just spent the vast majority of a match on the penalty kill due to some heavily suspicious calls, is simply to say that they’re crap. 

General opinion, however, is that the problem goes a little deeper. 

A friend suggested to me that the problem lies in a lack of communication. If, for instance, a ref sees a retaliation but not the initial incident, then he would then obviously call the retaliating player. However, instead of simply making the call and allowing the player to work himself into a frenzy, a simple explanation of the situation to both parties and a mild warning about restraint would surely diffuse the tension and reduce the animosity towards the official himself. 

Common sense, you might think. Apparently not - most British refs seem happier to let the initially-wronged player take his own revenge on his next shift, leading to more penalties, more ejections, and a loss of flow in the game.

After all, 28 penalty minutes in the first period of a Playoff final, when there hasn't even been a fight, isn't doing anyone any favours.

Another idea is that a lack of conviction in their calls is leading Hanson and his contemporaries to make more and more ‘even-up calls’, making the game disjointed and largely unfair. 

Mr Hanson took that to new extremes this weekend, with each team getting one period in which they were almost constantly on a power play - and who the hell calls high sticks at 58.49 in a final?

Is it just that the officials are too eager to second guess themselves and make an apologetic call next shift, or is the influence from the crowd, the bench, and the players themselves having too much of an effect?

Whatever the reason is, the result is that important matches are being stripped of their shine, teams aren’t being allowed to build momentum, and most worryingly of all, games are being decided by the ability of the officials rather than of the teams. 

Would an NHL-style fourth official help us?  

Maybe it would, maybe it wouldn't, but one thing is for sure – if the quality of the refereeing doesn’t improve significantly, the sport in Britain is in real trouble.