Tonight at 7:05pm et a referee will drop the puck to kick off the 2013-14 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The first round is always the toughest brand of hockey and the most difficult for the Officials to work effectively. Finishing on top of a division does not always guarantee advancement beyond the first playoff round as we have seen through several upsets in recent years. This year's matchups will guarantee that some legitimate Cup contenders will be eliminated with a one and done series appearance.
The margin for victory between all the teams is very slim and mistakes made by players and officials are magnified at this time of year. Simply put, mistakes can be the difference between a team and an official from going on in the playoffs or going home!
Last night I joined James Duthie for a brief segment in the playoff preview show shot in Studio 9 at TSN where I will be monitoring games and officials' calls on a nightly basis throughout the first round. James asked me what I will be looking for from the Officials the moment the playoffs begin. My response was for strict adherence to the letter of the law. The rules do not change during the playoffs and neither should the expected standard of enforcement! The referees have often been accused of putting their whistles away during the playoffs. Far too many times we have seen the score and time of a game factored into the refs' judgment as to what constitutes an obvious penalty.
I cited a game between the NY Rangers and the Montreal Canadiens from the final weekend of the regular season as an example of what we should hope from the referees throughout this postseason.
In that game, referee Gord Dwyer awarded a penalty shot to Brian Gionta in overtime when the Habs captain was tripped from behind at the Rangers blue line by Raphael Diaz. Gionta was chasing a loose puck at the time he was fouled and therefore did not have possession and control of the puck. This aspect of the play could have offered the referee an 'out' to take an 'easier' path and simply assess a minor penalty for tripping. Instead, referee Dwyer made the correct judgment as stipulated in rule 24.8 (iii) that Brian Gionta would have obtained possession and control of the puck and was denied a reasonable chance to score. The game ended when Brian Gionta scored on the ensuing penalty shot awarded by the referee.
Kudos to referee Dwyer for making this perceived tough call (video link). In reality the more difficult position a referee will place himself in is if he attempts to manage the game by letting an obvious infraction go uncalled. This often sets a chain of events in motion that is difficult for the ref to recover from. The subsequent infraction committed by the other team is usually worse than the previous one he let go. By applying a sense of 'fairness,' the official feels helpless to call that next penalty and the standard becomes lost. The best deterrent for a player to avoid committing an infraction is the fear that he will be placing his team at a disadvantage by incurring a penalty. When that 'fear factor' no longer exists as a result of the ref's whistle being put away the game can deteriorate and the integrity of the outcome placed in jeopardy. Anarchy can result until an 'automatic penalty' is called such as puck over the glass or too many men on the ice and a semblance of order is restored!
This negative influence on a game can be avoided it the referees call the obvious infractions that are committed regardless of the score or time in a game. Whenever the officials make the tough but correct call they must receive the support of the Officiating Department heads. Management needs to demonstrate their courage by publicly backing the officials when they make the right call at a crucial time in the game.
A season long subjective performance evaluation has been tabulated by the Officiating and Hockey Operations Department on each referee and linesman to determine selection to the playoffs. Congratulations and best of luck to the following officials that have been selected to the first round:
Francis Charron, Paul Devorski, Gord Dwyer, Eric Furlatt, Dave Jackson, Mark Joannette, Steve Kozari, Chris Lee, Wes McCauley, Brad Meier, Dean Morton, Dan O'Halloran, Dan O'Rourke, Chris Rooney, Tim Peel, Kevin Pollock, Francois St.-Laurent, Justin St.Pierre, Kelly Sutherland, Brad Watson
Derek Amell, Steve Barton, David Brisebois, Lonnie Cameron, Scott Cherry, Michel Cormier, Greg Devorski, Scott Driscoll, Darren Gibbs, Shane Heyer, Brad Kovachik, Matt MacPherson, Steve Miller, Brian Murphy, Jonny Murray, Derek Nansen, Brian Pancich, Pierre Racicot, Jay Sharrers, Mark Shewchyk
The hockey world will be watching closely as each of you display the courage and good judgment necessary to get the job done.