By Brad Baumruck, AHAI/IHOA Advanced Development Coordinator – As the pandemic continues, what are officials going through?
As a veteran official of 22 seasons, I have been in contact with many fellow officials during the pause in play. I thought I would share my personal perspective.
Most people venture into an ice arena to watch a hockey game or even better be a player or coach in these games. The thrill of victory, the agony of defeat is the night’s dispositions. But as we all know there is a team of guardians of the game’s integrity, the officials. The officials show up to every contest ready to skate with thoughts other than winning or losing. They show up to maintain the rules of the sport. These officials, men and women of all ages and backgrounds, just want to be a part of a game they love. The officials are participants in these sporting contests as well and enjoy being a part of our great sport.
With hockey being on pause in Illinois since March 17, 2020, the players, coaches, parents, and, yes, the officials are going through physical and mental withdrawal. I believe everyone understands the withdrawal players, coaches and parents are going though during the pause. The hours of practices and time spent in rink parking lots for parents has been an absolute dismal experience. To top it off, they have not been able to watch their favorite athlete compete. For the players and coaches, hours of what seems to be endless practices with no thrill of victory or the teachings of defeat. These are absolutely what I believe most participants are going through. But as I look at articles and general conversations there is a group which is not represented at this time – the officials.
We (officials) show up to officiate the game and go home; we have no stake in the actual outcome of the game, so why would we be effected? The officials do have absolutely no stake in the outcome of these contests, but their integrity to uphold the rules of the game is always in that respect a part of the outcome. But this is not the reason they go out on the ice. Why do they do it? Because they get a chance to participate in a sport they may have played as a child or adult, or maybe never played. Officials want to be a part of the game and get some physical activity. Before anyone states the obvious, why would you want to get yelled at for 60 to 120 minutes? I’ll clear up some of the stigma right now. Most games genuinely have no issues; there are just a select few that do.
What are officials going through, you may ask? Officials are missing the same thing players, coaches, and parents are as well. We just don’t get the same thrill and agony of a game, but we get a thrill out of the game overall. During a hockey game, the officials seamlessly blend themselves into the game, even if you disagree with a call; you barely notice the officials after the fact. They go out, work hard for the participants to create a safe and fair environment. Yes, calls will be missed or wrong, and as an official getting off the ice I could not feel worse when I make a mistake. Without mistakes there would be no goals scored, right? So, what else are officials missing at this time that players, coaches, and parents are also missing?
As an official I am missing my brothers and sisters in stripes. The camaraderie of officials before, during, and after the games, with the occasional dinner afterwards, too. Officials love to talk about hockey at any time; this is a major learning experience for newer officials. We love to converse about the contest at hand or one we had last week. But it goes deeper than the simple fact of the officials banding together as friends and co-workers.
The players who challenge us to be at, hopefully, our absolute top physical peak. As we all know the players practice 2-3 times a week; as officials most of us only skate games we are scheduled to work. This can be a challenge, especially with a pause in hockey. Players also test our ability to engage in conversations we normally wouldn’t have with peers as the players are normally much younger. Creating an entirely different place we are not normally comfortable with, in this situation, we are not only enforcing rules, but teaching. Engaging with competitive natured players can be one of the most fulfilling experiences on the ice as an official.
The parents in the stands provide the great energy while they cheer their favorite players on to victory. It makes for an amazing atmosphere to be involved in every game from mites to pros. The passion is amazing to witness from the ice as an official; I would not trade a minute on the ice for 10 years at a desk job, even with the challenging moments.
Coaches are a buffer between players and the few outraged fans. During a game, lots of situations occur, and conversations come from those which are generally positive, again officials love to talk about the game. When coaches are passionate it gets heated, but as an official I miss these heated conversations. I cannot say to a person at the grocery store let us talk when they are mad at me because I forgot my pin number yet again. This creates a camaraderie all in its own, as we are all looking out for the players, rules, and integrity of the game.
So, “What are officials going through?”
The absolute same thing players, coaches, and parents are going through. We love the game and are missing it every day. Men and women who are dedicated to the game and go the extra mile to stay a part of it, instead of just watching on TV. We all love hockey because it is a passion; the officials are with you all and are waiting out the pause to eagerly return to the ice in stripes.
Reflecting on the passing of Mark Gore – a co-worker, friend, or as most would call him, family – has made me reflect on how the pause is effecting myself, as well as all the other participates of our great sport. I hope to see everyone in the rinks soon … whether or not you agree with my calls, we can always have a rational conversation afterwards.