I'd never cared much for refs. I didn't like them as a player and learned to hate many as a coach and hockey dad and fan. I especially hated the ones with an attitude or those who seemed to act like they were more important than the game. If I thought a ref missed a call or made a bad call I would let them know it. Idiots.
Then I got kicked out of a game for being a jerk. It was a couple of years earlier. The Jaguars were playing a team at the Glacial Gardens in Long Beach, California. Glacial Gardens is pretty much the center of the Socal hockey universe. It is owned by Ron White, the godfather of Socal youth hockey. The facility had three surfaces. Our game, on this day, was on the smallest rink. It was tiny. Too small.
I was behind the glass in the corner. I was video taping the game and I had a clip board for recording stats. Hitting from behind was a big thing and there was a new rule that year. A penalty for checking from behind resulted in two and a ten. A two minute minor penalty plus a ten minute misconduct.
There was a girl reffing the game. She had either missed or let go a number of hits from behind, against both teams. I was angry, not about any unfair advantage, but that someone was going to get hurt if she didn't crack down and start calling these hits.
Just then there was another hit from behind against one of our kids in the corner. I and a number of other parents were yelling at the ref. I took my clip board and banged it on the glass a few times for effect.
Next thing I know, the linesman is standing in front of me motioning. He was ejecting me! I did my perp walk with the rink security guy. I think I have a problem.
The problem was me. I needed to manage my emotions and not get so upset by what I deemed incompetence. The next chance I got I signed both Max and myself up for the referee clinic to get trained and certified to officiate. This changed my life.
For one thing, I realized how difficult it is to do that job. When you watch a hockey game from the point of view of a player, coach or fan you have a bias, a vested interest in an outcome. Seen through this prism your perspective is colored by what you want to see. Someone hits, trips, hooks or punches you, of course it's an infraction. When you do it to an opponent and he goes down you can claim you barely touched him. "How can you call that?"
I remember the first few times I reffed or even "lined" a game I couldn't even tell who was going which way. When objectivity is required everything looks different. It's much more difficult to make a judgement call when you have no stake in the result. A fellow official gave me a tip that was immensely helpful in "seeing" the game and sorting out who's who on the ice. He suggested that I do an internal play-by-play commentary in my head. You know, like: "the red team has the puck behind their own goal. The d-man makes an outlet pass up the boards to his winger...." Etc. this really helped me early on sort out the play. Again, being neutral takes some time and experience to be able to make good decisions.
It's also humbling becoming one of "them". I'd spent a lifetime hating on this group of policemen. Now I was one of them. All of a sudden crazy uninformed screaming parents seemed silly. I went on to work youth games at most levels and adult league. I've had to deal with crying mites who refuse to go to the penalty box all the way to drunk grown men who I had to eject. I officiated a game while Teemu Selanne watched his squirt aged son play. He thanked me after the game.
Officiating ice hockey has allowed me to learn innumerable life lessons about human nature, including my own. Once I watched a series of plays where a forward was right at the edge of committing a penalty two or three times. I didn't call anything. Next he stepped in front of a player, interfering with a scoring opportunity. I called interference. By itself it was an iffy call. But in the context of what I saw it was the correct call. He yapped and whined all the way to the penalty box. I started to explain to him how he committed a number of borderline fouls that I'd let go before finally making the call. He laughed and winked at me and told me he knew but he has to make it look good. Great lesson for me. No matter how legitimate the call it is human nature to dispute it. It's not personal. No need to debate it. This gave me tremendous freedom.
Max also got his referee certification. He's a very good official. He's been working games since he was thirteen. It's a fantastic work experience for any kid. It's a great way to make more money than any part time job he could have gotten. He's continued to ref through prep school, juniors and college. Where else can a kid earn $40+ for an hour and fifteen minute game. How many hours would someone have to work Jamba Juice to make the $120 or so you make doing a three game set? And the leadership and responsibility learned from dealing with whacko parents or uninformed adult players is priceless.
There would be at least one more incident where I got upset with a ref while coaching. It happens two years from this point. I'll get back to it in a chapter or two.