|NOHA officials get to learn from the best|
|Written by Ken Pagan, The Nugget|
Good hockey referees are usually good skaters, but it is often a skill that goes unnoticed and sometimes taken for granted.
But if a hockey official has difficulty skating, there will be difficulties in calling the game properly.
Fifteen minor hockey officials from throughout the North got to pick up a few tips from one of the world's best on the weekend, as NHL referee and former NHL director of officiating Stephen Walkom took to the ice for the NOHA's second annual Referee School.
Alongside OHL referee T.J. Foster and local junior 'A' official Josh Jolley, Walkom, who has worked more than 900 NHL games since 1990, led the way in providing some on-ice tips for improving mobility and maintaining position. A hockey official should always be working to keep up with the play and be in position to see what is happening, while also staying out of the way.
“Most of the officials at the (NHL) level are excellent skaters and they don’t have to think about skating, so they can focus on judging fouls within the game,” Walkom said following an on-ice session Saturday. “For these guys this weekend, it’s about letting the young guys know that you have to work on (skating). If you can work on it so you’re not thinking about it when you’re out there, it’s going to keep you in ready position to be able to make the best judgment you can.”
It's often said that a good referee goes unnoticed, but anytime a call is made, one team will notice. But a referee will be noticed more if he or she can't skate, or can't get out of the way of the play. In a high-paced game, even the best officials can't avoid being hit by the puck or bumping into a player, but it is best to find a way to stay out of traffic.
“You’re going to get noticed as a referee as soon as play is stopped and you call a penalty, but the key is you don’t want to give them any more reason to be upset at officiating,” Walkom said. “A lot of people get upset if you get in the way of the puck or the player. So to stay out of the way, you need to be fit and agile. It’s an important element for an official.
“I think you gain credibility from a coach and player’s perspective if you step on the ice and the players say ‘this guy can skate.’ It’s one thing they’re not going to complain about.”
The Referee School was delivered as part of the NOHA's Program of Excellence Development Weekend, which also included a Development 2 Coaching Clinic, and more than 70 players under age 16 showcasing themselves in a player development camp.
Adding to the Referee School was an Officials Supervision Seminar, which attracted nearly 30 officiating supervisors from across the North to work with the likes of NHL officiating manager Dan McCourt, OHL officiating manager Ken Miller and NOHA director of officials Glen Campbell.
In addition to delivering in-class seminars for supervisors, Miller and McCourt were on hand for a bit of “scouting,” keeping an eye on Walkom and the other officials on the ice.
“In the past, any official in Northern Ontario who wanted to go to a referee school had to go south, to Hamilton or Toronto,” Miller said. “Prior to last year, we decided we would run our own referee school.
“We have the expertise here. How many areas have the access to Stephen Walkom or Dan McCourt, plus the experience of amateur officials?”
The rough the supervision seminars, it is hoped the insight and coaching provided from experienced officials will provide area supervisors the tools to help on-ice officials improve.
“The goal is, if we make them better supervisors, they are going to go out and help make better officials,” Miller said. “When you put a better officiating product on the ice, it makes for a better hockey game.
“In my opinion, this is a really big step forward for the Northern Ontario Hockey Association, in having our own referee school and the supervision seminar. When you put it together with the under-16 players and training the coaches, it’s all the components of the game together. This is a good thing for hockey and for the North.”
Walkom, who turned 49 last week, found his own way to the NHL in the 1980s by working his way up through the junior ranks.
There was no referee school in North Bay when he was coming up, but he is glad to help out with the next generation. He said there is a demand for good officials at all levels of hockey.
“For these guys, it’s great,” Walkom said. “We have a lot of good officials — T.J. Foster is a great OHL referee already and we have guys who have come up in the system here in North Bay. People like Glen Campbell and Ken Miller have dedicated their lives to developing and nurturing officials. We’re lucky in North Bay.
“We could just use some more raw material, some more guys who played midget or bantam hockey, to come back and officiate. There are opportunities for them should they do it.”