Written by Paul Shipman, Director of Officials

Referees make mistakes. It’s true. They do. Just like we do, or our daughter’s do. We say it all the time. We use it to excuse a referee when we think they’ve made a bad call or “non-call”. We use it to humanize them. And we’re wrong to do it. Because it’s created a mystique, the mystique that referees make mistakes.

Spectators, coaches and players, we all believe it. We see something from the stands or bench with a different perspective on the play, where we’re often too far away to adequately judge the full circumstances of the play. Where our team spirit doesn’t allow us to fairly assess whether the circumstances resulted in an impact to the play. And we just think that the referee made a mistake, because referees make mistakes. We all do. And they’re just like us. Pretty soon every time the referee makes a call we disagree with it’s just another mistake. And as everyone knows, once you’ve made a few mistakes in a row it’s no longer an excuse – you’re just doing a bad job.

In reality, 99.9% of the time the referee hasn’t made a mistake at all.

Most of us can correctly identify what a trip looks like, or hooking. We do pretty well with high sticking and body contact. But most of us haven’t actually read the rules. We haven’t had any training in how they’re applied and none of us are impartial.

The fact of the matter is that our referees are well trained. Each new referee attends a four-hour course on the rules, positioning and other important skills. They receive three on-ice training sessions with an experienced referee as a mentor.

Every referee, new or old, is expected to read the rulebook and attend a four-hour course on the rules and other skills once every two-years. They’re evaluated and coached at least once every year in order to maintain their certification for the level of game they can do.

In Manitoba, nearly 90% of our referees will attend a development camp once a season where they are coached, often via walkie-talkie, on one-to-three games on average.

Additionally, many referees take part in continuing education and incremental improvement through team work, presentations and constant feedback and case review with their peers. They are each working to be better at one thing this game as compared to the last.

On average, any given referee has in the neighborhood of 15 hours of off-ice training and 60+ hours of in-game experience versus our collective, big, fat zero.

Playoffs are coming up. It’s the end of the season. Our referees have the whole season behind them now and they’re firing on all cylinders just like our teams are. Things are about to get heated on the ice. Things are going to get called, and things are going to get let go – and our referees know which should be which. Teams will be playing harder than they have all year. Things are going to happen on the ice that we haven’t seen before. We’re going to get calls that don’t make us happy.

And we’ll tell ourselves that referees make mistakes. We all do. They just didn’t make one this time.