Fraser: On-ice work for officials all about positioning

Kerry Fraser
10/31/2013 1:53:34 PM
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Got a question on rule clarification, comments on rule enforcements or some memorable NHL stories? Kerry wants to answer your emails at!

Hi Kerry,

In Wednesday night's game between Toronto and Calgary, referee Paul Devorski got one to the head by an errant clearing attempt. He had to leave the game for repairs and luckily he came back.

My question is this - it looked like he was skating up the ice in front of the defencemen, so he did not see the puck coming. In the numerous replays that TSN showed I could not tell if he was the back or front referee, but shouldn't he have been trailing the play or skating behind the Leafs defence? That way things like this can't happen!

What's an official's mindset during the game in terms of how he positions himself?

Scott Martin


'Devo,' what were you thinking when you blasted out of the corner with your back turned away from the play and with Cody Franson's best option being to pound the puck up the wall and down the ice on the PK? 

I wasn't sure if you thought you were back at training camp doing a timed goal line to goal line sprint test or decided to join the Leafs end zone breakout play since they were a man short. I'm really sorry about your injury, but I think you'll probably agree that for the most part it was avoidable and somewhat self-inflicted. On the up-side you demonstrated excellent foot speed - you've still got it pal!

Scott, Kerry Fraser Referee Positioning 101 is based on the premise that you want to gain a position on the ice that provides the best and safest sightline (unobstructed view) to render a decision. "Safest" is out of traffic areas and most often when trailing the play.  At the very least a Ref wants to keep players in front of him whenever possible. 

Players are coached to attack the puck; first player hard on the puck with a secondary teammate providing support. Wherever the puck is located on the ice a battle for possession will quickly result.

While players attack the puck, I have always taught the opposite is true for an Official; Ref's must retreat from the puck. To facilitate this objective the Official needs to read the play in advance (anticipate) and move or vacate an area that players will soon occupy or battle for the puck in.  One other cardinal rule I practiced was to never turn my back on the puck carrier or shooter. If I was forced to retreat or pushed up the wall I always squared to the puck and faced the shooter. When this situation presented itself I retreated as quickly as possible to create space (distance) and time to defend if the puck came at me. Once an Official turns his back to the play he has NO chance of seeing the puck or defending by blocking with an elbow pad or by simply moving aside.

As a result of the battle behind the Leafs goal by Paul Ranger and Joe Colborne of the Flames, the puck was forced toward the corner where Referee Devorski stood. The 'read' by the Ref at this point should have been that uncontested puck possession would be gained by defenceman Cody Franson given a lack of potential pursuit by any Flame players in the area. With the puck travelling toward the corner, which ultimately comes to rest near or against the sidewall at the goal line, the Ref would correctly determine the lane along the wall and deep into the corner was not available to him. Had Devorski taken this route he would have converged on the puck about the same time Cody Franson did.  Devo's decision here was the correct one.

The first best angle of retreat from the puck by Referee Devorski would have been by skating parallel to Cody Franson in the opposite direction and reposition himself along the goal line half way between the corner and the net. (I termed this location "half-piston" when I designed the positioning philosophy implemented by the C.H.A. in the mid-1980's) From this safe location acquired by the Ref, Cody Franson could gain puck possession and make his play. Additionally from the half-piston location there was no potential for the Ref to obstruct pursuit by the nearest Flame player.

The second 'worst' angle of retreat was ultimately taken by the referee up the wall past the hash marks toward the blue line. By taking this route the Ref clearly placed himself in a shooting or passing lane (anticipation?). Once Devo committed to this exit strategy he should have been skating backwards as fast as possible (distance/time) facing Cody Franson with his hands up near his face to deflect or defend against a potential errant puck.

An Official should always face the puck squarely and be ready to defend just like a Ninja!

I was once asked to wear a new protective flak vest designed by a manufacturer in Strathroy, Ontario. He assured me I could take a puck right in the chest and the vest would disperse the force of impact leaving nothing more than a small bruise. This was before I was forced to wear a helmet and while I wasn't concerned about protecting my head I was more than willing to strap on the vest for added body armor.

I was up for the challenge in Boston one night. With the Bruins on the power-play I was the lead Referee on the play in the two-man system and skating backwards just over the attacking blue line in advance of the rush. B's defenceman, Sean O'Donnell pounded a slapper into the zone on a hard-around from the cross-ice red line. It was probably about a 90 mile-an-hour shot, four feet off the ice and travelling straight at me. I foolishly decided this would be a good test for the flak vest so I squared up to the puck and puffed out my chest ready to take the best O'Donnell offered on this one.

My laser-like focus on the puck revealed the vulcanized missile starting to rise at an alarming rate and travelling faster than I originally anticipated. I bailed and hit the deck face-first at the very last second and felt the wind from the puck on my Paul Mitchell Freeze & Shine; a narrow miss! Bruins play-by-play man Jack Edwards without taking a breath and in his very best Howard Cosell impersonation commented, "And Down Goes Fraser" to which color analyst Gord Kluzak immediately chimed in, "And Not A Hair Out of Place!"

While it was a close call, by squarely facing the shooter and puck I was able to defend myself. For the next week or so, when the War Room buzzes down to Referee Paul Devorski he'll be taking the call in his other ear. 

Happy Halloween everyone.

Kerry Fraser

Kerry Fraser

Kerry Fraser is an analyst for the NHL on TSN and That's Hockey 2Nite on TSN2. As one of the league's most recognizable senior referees, he's worked 1,904 NHL regular season games and 261 playoff games during his 37-year career.

Got a question on rule clarification, comments on rule enforcements or some memorable NHL stories? Kerry wants to answer your emails at!

You can also follow Kerry Fraser on Twitter at @kfraserthecall!

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