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A Good Ref Apologizes -- But Not Too Often

June 1, 2019, 12:42 PM ET [7 Comments]
Paul Stewart
Blogger •Former NHL Referee • RSSArchiveCONTACT
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I have always been of the belief that a good referee or linesman should own up to it when he or she makes a mistake. Admit it, apologize and move on. Despite seeming efforts to over-structure to the detriment of flow and creativity, over-rely on technology to the detriment of judgment and accountability and overuse statistics without applying context and hockey knowledge, the human element and emotion are still part of our game.

All humans make mistakes. Hall of Fame goalies let in soft goals. Superstar defensemen get beaten off the rush and turn pucks over. World class snipers miss open nets on occasion. Supreme skaters fall down. The top coaches push the wrong strategic buttons or miss the boat in the handling of certain personnel over the course of a career. The game's very best officials miss calls. It's inevitable.

Part of gaining acceptability as an official is showing a willingness to admit a mistake. However, there are some key distinctions to be made. First of all, an unpopular call is not necessarily a bad or unjustifiable one from an officiating standpoint. Secondly, there is a time and a place for discussion and situations when it is NOT time for discussion or explanation.

Lastly, beware of the official (or officiating boss, because that's where the buck ultimately stops) who apologizes too freely and too frequently.That does not make one a standup professional. Rather, it makes one a practiced apologist.

Over my years in the administrative and teaching side of officiating, I often tell referees and linesmen that they are paid to make the right call. Make it to the absolute best of your ability, and be fearless about it. There is no such thing as giving 110 percent. There’s only 100 percent to give, and you need to give that full commitment each and every time you step through that tunnel onto the ice.

Don't be wishy-washy about a call. It's a penalty or it isn't. It's a goal or it isn't. It's onside or it's offside. If that means taking an extra moment before blowing the whistle, take it. There's no prize for being the fastest to raise your arm. But do NOT:

1) ...fail to hustle or shirk the ever-present fundamental of proper positioning.
2) ...use technology as a crutch and make a call for the sake of "a call" or simply throw it over to replay. You are paid to judge, so judge.
3) .... neglect the rule book. The Rule Book is your shield. An official's knowledge of the Rule Book should always be more comprehensive and thorough to that of the vast majority of coaches and players.
4)... try to "atone" for a mistake via a makeup call at the next opportunity on a marginal play. Two wrongs don't make a right.
5) ...generically apologize. If you messed up, understand what happened and why, and then get the call right the next time.

League officials have a role in this, too. If the league is too loose and free in apologizing -- and removing officials -- because there is a controversial call and/or a complaint by an owner, what you're actually doing is setting all of your officials up to fail. Apologize when there's a genuine mistake, yes. More importantly, review your coaching and supervision standards and move forward from there.


A Class of 2018 inductee to the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame, Paul Stewart holds the distinction of being the first U.S.-born citizen to make it to the NHL as both a player and referee. On March 15, 2003, he became the first American-born referee to officiate in 1,000 NHL games.

Visit Paul's official website, YaWannaGo.com
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