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I was watching the Leafs vs. Wild game Wednesday night and noticed that they had an official who was skating in his first NHL game.
I thought it was great to see such a young man get to where he is now and display such hard work for his first game. Being an official myself who is looking to move up to do higher levels of hockey, what advice can you give me and other young officials who are looking to improve on their skills?
I know an official like yourself has a lot of experience that can be shared to help officials clean up their game.
It was once told to me that "from experience you attain judgment - from poor judgment you attain experience!"
Those words of wisdom were told to me by then IHL Commissioner Bill Beagan in one of my very first games as referee when a bench-clearing brawl had erupted and lasted for 20 minutes. Everybody was fighting including the goalkeepers and even the trainers! I didn't have a clue how to handle the situation I found myself in for the very first time.
When the dust settled all I assessed was fighting majors to four players. No first man off the bench, no third man in, no penalty to the goalies for leaving their crease; talk about a deer in the headlights moment. Fortunately Commissioner Beagan took me aside and in a fatherly way coached me as to how I needed to manage a situation like that when it happened in the future. I gained confidence through his coaching that night and through the "poor judgment" I had exercised on the ice.
I made an immediate transition from playing to officiating in 1972 following my final season in the Southern Ontario Jr. "A" League as captain of the Sarnia Bees. I attended a five-day school for officials in late September of that year and was scouted and invited to attend the NHL Training Camp of Officials two days later. My knowledge of the game was gained as a player. I could skate well, understood the physicality of the game and the emotional levels that players and coaches feel. As a captain of most teams I played for I demonstrated respect for the Refs and some knowledge of the rules. Beyond that I knew nothing about being a referee.
I was immediately thrust into the officiating ranks at the professional level and had to learn every aspect of the job; baptism under fire! I was forced to become a student of the game at a new and different level. Most importantly I very quickly recognized the need to learn more about myself. The job requires us as officials to be part of the solution and not part of the problem. Each of us will bring certain strengths and weaknesses to the work place. While we rely on our strengths it is important to recognize our deficiencies; especially any character flaws that we all develop over time. These flaws most often surface and rear their ugly head when we are under pressure. I call them negative reflex reactions to stress.
As an example, while toughness and over the top, in-your-face aggressiveness might serve someone well as a player but it would become a major obstacle as a referee during a confrontation. The role of the referee is not just to enforce the rules through good judgment but also about managing the emotional element of the game; to bring the temperature down when necessary. To do this effectively every referee must first manage and control his own emotional level when his feet are put to the fire. Doing so will allow for better decision making, to take control of aggressive situations and to develop positive working relationships with players and coaches build through mutual respect. Recognize how you respond when your authority is questioned, as will often be the case.
When you speak to a player or coach, listen to yourself. Be a communicator and don't always take yourself so seriously.
One particular night in Madison Square Garden a very frustrated Willie Plett of the Minnesota North Stars asked me if it was my "worst game of the season?" I responded, "No, they are all about this bad." My non-aggressive response redirected Willie's focus in a positive way. If you have a chip on your shoulder recognize it and then remove it.
Obviously the mechanics of our profession must be learned and constantly refined; knowledge of the rules, positioning, judgment and standard of enforcement and physical conditioning to name a few. The best advice I can offer you Ryan is to always remain a student of the game and of yourself. This will enable you to continually grow as a respected official and as a person. The game that you love will benefit and so will those around you. It's impossible to separate the person you are from the job you do!
To develop and maximize personal skills every official's ongoing post-game homework assignment should be honest self-reflection. Even if a game goes well, time should be spent alone with your thoughts as to anything that could have been done differently to achieve a better result through your performance. Accept that human mistakes will be made but learn from them.
After every game I recognized there were things that I knew I should have done differently. I filed them in the memory banks under the to-do list.
From experience I attained judgment - from poor judgment I attained experience.
Congratulations to young Referee Trent Knorr who worked the Leafs-Wild in his first NHL game.