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I have noticed lately that players do not hesitate to hurl verbal abuse at the referees after being penalized for infractions. As one who grew up knowing that unless you had a 'C' or an 'A' on your sweater you were not allowed to address an official, I find it unacceptable that officials are subjected to this abuse!
At what point do the referees say "enough is enough" and start handing out misconduct penalties to players who cannot keep their mouths shut? Is there a fine line that has to be crossed before players are heavily penalized for this conduct?
Gary Kadin, Penticton, B.C.
It appears as though fighting is up in the early going of this shortened season as well. Perhaps players are just angrier following the lockout and are looking for conduits to vent their frustration? Hockey Officials are (and always have been) excellent "lightning rods" when it comes to receiving negative emotion whether from a player designated as a Captain or not.
Players understand the importance that every point makes in their final standing during this 48-game season. A tie or shootout loss could mean the difference between their team advancing to the playoffs or ending up with an even shorter season. As the stakes increase and pressure mounts, the beast from within can rear its ugly head without much provocation. This is true for both the players and the officials.
It is important that the Referees and Linesmen make every effort to effectively manage the emotional element of the game. Their primary objective should always be to diffuse player hostility and become part of the solution as opposed to part of the problem.
While handing out unsportsmanlike conduct and/or misconduct penalties is one tool available at the Officials disposal I believe it doesn't serve as effective in the long-term.
Every Official has a different tolerance level whenever verbal abuse is directed his way. Profanity is often used in player outbursts directed at the Official but that in and of itself is seldom the overriding factor as to an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty being assessed. If a player utilized gestures or attempts to show up the Official with a more public display of disrespect you can bet that player will find himself in the penalty box. If a player's comments get personal in nature odds are that will also be a sensitive trigger point for an Official. One thing I could never tolerate was being called a "homer, gutless, or a cheater." Whenever that happened I saw RED and sent the player to the box.
My mentor and former Director Of NHL Officials, John McCauley (deceased father of NHL Referee, Wes McCauley) told me that the most effective Referee was the one that could get the players to play on his terms without having to 'lay the hammer down'! John's advice really stuck with me as I attempted to develop positive working relationships with players and coaches around the NHL from four decades. I learned that by utilizing appropriate body language, voice inflection and to think before I actually opened my mouth, I was more effective in taking control of hostile situations, players or coaches and to bring the temperature down. In most situations it is better to establish acceptable parameters to have a 'discussion' or offer an 'explanation' to an emotionally charged player than yelling back with an emotional or inappropriate response. It's always better to try and find a better way though enhanced communication skills. Let me give you an example.
Rick Tocchet became the youngest Captain in Philadelphia Flyers history. 'Toc' was a highly energized kid who led his team by example and brought it every night. His youthful enthusiasm and new leadership role caused him to get into hot water with most of the Referees at the time by yelling at them constantly. Consequently Tocchet was receiving a good number of misconduct penalties for his behaviour. One game in the Philadelphia Spectrum 'Toc' charged at me and started yelling about a particular call. On the 'Richter scale' of negative emotions, with ten being the highest, Captain Rick was measuring about a nine!
I interrupted Toc's rant with a two-handed open palm gesture signifying peace in addition to a firm but calm command to "Hold on a second. I need to talk with you!" Rick stopped shouting and put on his listening ears as I went on to say, "You are a great young Captain and leader of the Flyers and I admire how you play. You lead by example and can score, fight and hit — you are a terrific young player and really make a difference to this team. You can't do that when you are sitting in the penalty box for 10 minutes. I want to keep you on the ice but you have to stop yelling at me. If you have questions just ask me calmly and I'll answer it." I finished my dialogue to Tocchet by saying, "The guys in the stripes are not your opponents or enemy. Exert all your energy on the guys wearing the other team jerseys and you will be very successful."
I saw that the light had gone on in Rick Tocchet's eyes. It made perfect sense to him. He nodded and skated away. The tone had been set for future 'discussions' between Tocchet and I. We didn't always agree and Toc remained a high energy, intense player and coach throughout his career. The difference I noticed was that his emotional energy was directed in the right place.
It also helps to have a sense of humour and find the lighter side whenever possible. Willie Plett asked me one night in Madison Square Garden if this was my worst game of the season. I responded by saying, "No, they're all about this bad!"
In 2000-01 I had an exhibition game in Hershey, Pennsylvania between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. A free-spirited rookie by the name of Billy Tibbetts was playing for the Pens and was about to receive a penalty from my young partner. As play stopped Tibbetts charged toward the young Referee. I stepped in Tibbetts' path to intercept him but he blew past me and started yelling at the other Ref. Matthew Barnaby was screaming at me from the bench to get out of Tibbetts way because as Barny said, "Kerry, he's crazy, he'll run you over!"
Tibbetts finally took his seat in the box and I decided it was the right moment to have a heart-to-heart talk with the Billy The Kid! I opened the penalty box door, poked my head in and said, "Listen young man, I have been in this League for 25 years and the infraction you just committed was a penalty when I started and it still is today. Please don't challenge the other Ref for calling it."
Tibbetts glared at me and said in his Boston accent, "I know who you awwrre, you OLD F_ _ _ _! I've been watching you on TV since I was in diapers and you've got UGLY HAIR!"
I burst out laughing. The Kid got me. He played for the Penguins, Flyers and Rangers in his short NHL career but he and I enjoyed a very good working relationship that was spawned from Billy's honesty in our first encounter. Truth be known, I was having a bad hair day in Hershey...
Have a wonderful weekend!