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Assigning Officials: 3 Keys

February 12, 2020, 11:06 AM ET [3 Comments]
Paul Stewart
Blogger •Former NHL Referee • RSSArchiveCONTACT
Every assignor in every hockey league can attest to this fact: There are lots of games that need coverage and not enough supply of referees and linesmen that you can assign with full confidence. Consistency of availabilty is an issue for some. For others, there are gaps in skill-sets, trustworthiness, you name it.

As such, there are times where the numbers stretch you thin, and ensuring leaguewide schedule coverage has to be the final arbiter. Just as coaches sometimes have to deal with a patchwork lineup and carefully manage the minutes of lineup fill-ins, the same principle applies to assigning, supervising and coaching officials.

As a longtime director officiating, assignor and supervisor, I would liken the proper relationship with one's officials to that of a benevolent dictatorship. The person in charge has to set the standards and know when to assert authority. However, one should also be a good listener and know when to be flexible.

During my years as an NHL referee, I had both good and not-so-good bosses and I learned from both types in different ways. Here are three key principles:

1) Assignments shouldn't be punitive. I had a former boss who took seeming glee in playing one-upsmanship mind games with assignments. If a certain ref and certain coach clashed, it was virtually par for the course that they'd be jammed down each other's throats again as soon as possible. That was especially true if a complaint was lodged or a request made for a different official to be assigned. There is a difference between standing behind one's officials and provoking further hostility before cooler heads prevail. In the meantime, this same boss liked to stick it to his less favored officials by making assignment schedules as logistically taxing as possible, even if there were much more economical options available. It was a way of trying to drive those people to quit. This method is Poor People Management 101.

2) Set clear expectations. No official is every going to be immune to mistakes. To err is human. However, there is a process that should be followed consistently. When I review officials, I look for good positioning and sound judgement, consistent hustle and strong communication with officiating teammates. Another non-negotiable expectation is that an official be in proper physical condition. I have had a few officials who do not conform to the physical demands of the job try to convince me to give them a sliding-scale pass because they've lost some -- but not enough weight -- or have improved their skating but are still at a substandard level relative to the demands of the league. While you may personally like some officials more than others, the aforementioned expectations must be maintained and enforced across the board. If one is truly serious about officiating and has what it takes to make it, they will meet these very basic expectations.

3)Have a heart, too. Going back to the first point, one cannot fight every single battle. Likewise, firmness should not be confused with inflexibility. There are times when, apart from an injury or serious illness, re-doing a schedule is a reasonable request. For example, there may be a family-related reason (a wedding, birth of a child, gravely ill parent, etc) to change around an assignment.

Officials are human beings first. They aren't robots. Never forget that. At the same time, if you are the one with the assignments to give and the money to pay, standards must be met to your satisfaction.


A 2018 inductee into 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 websites, YaWannaGo.com and Officiating by Stewart.

Follow Paul on Twitter: @PaulStewart22
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