Playoff Time Is No Time To Change

Matt Nilles

You know what games are like this time of year. The stands are packed, and the hitting and hollering has a louder ring to it.

Perhaps with a national anthem here, and an announcement of lineups there, the buildup to game time is more intense.

The action reflects that intensity, with stronger hits, harder shots, and faster up-ice rushes.

It’s playoff hockey, and even if you can’t see the difference, you can certainly feel it, in every corner of the rink.

With that in mind, a question to referees is – Is it also a different game from a penalty-calling perspective?

“There is certainly more pressure,” admits Sean Jacques, Michigan District referee-in-chief. “The games are important. Someone is moving on and someone is going home. The importance of every call is magnified.”

Changes in judgment and execution on the part of a referee seem to be subtle, at best, but are worth considering by officials in that position, or even watching these classic matchups from the sidelines.

“I’ve found that the big-game assignment doesn’t necessarily put pressure on changing the standard as much as changing in other areas,” says John Cerza, a 33-year veteran from Arlington Heights, Ill. “Like mental preparation, looking through the rulebook, and stretching, things like that.”

At this level of play, on this stage, wholesale changes are unlikely and even inappropriate. But some “fine points” in the art of successful penalty calling should be addressed.

“The pressure isn’t really on what to call but to make sure you call the right stuff at the right time and be consistent,” continues Cerza, who has worked eight national tournaments and refereed four Illinois high school state championships.

If you really want to study the penalty-calling craft in the glare of the playoff spotlight, watch the very beginning.

“It is very important to be aware of the early shifts and how that plays into the standard you intend to set,” he says. “Usually those first few shifts are very intense. I try to talk to [the players] a little more so they know you are there. If play dictates a penalty, call it. That can settle things down.”

But if doubt or uncertainly lurks, a referee needs to reflect on “what got them there.”

“You probably received the game because you call a proper standard to begin with and deserve the assignment,” says Cerza, “so why change what you’re doing?”

Matt Nilles is a registered official in Urbana, Ill.


Whistle Blower  |  Q&A

Rick Looker, IIHFRick Looker, IIHFRick Looker is set to enjoy one of officiating’s greatest honors—the chance to referee the IIHF World Championships in Halifax, Nova Scotia and Quebec City, Quebec. USA Hockey Magazine caught up with the busy ref to fire a few questions his way:

USA Hockey Magazine: You’re on the road a lot, but where do you hang your skates the rest of the year?
Rick Looker: For nine months out of the season I live and officiate in Dusseldorf, Germany. During the offseason I live in Glendale, Ariz.
UHM: How long have you been officiating, and what other “high” levels of hockey have you worked?
RL: I have been officiating for 22 years, and have been on staff with the United States Hockey League, the Central Hockey League, and the Western Collegiate Hockey Association.
UHM: How did you get started?
RL: I started officiating when I was 15 years old to get more ice time.

UHM: Did you play and, if so, for how long?
RL: I played until I was 20. I played with the Des Moines Buccaneers in 1989 and then I played junior college hockey in Minnesota.
UHM: What would your advice be to a young official with a lot of desire and potential?
RL: Work as many games as possible during the season. Game experience will help your confidence.
UHM: Have you served in any off-ice (administrative) capacities?
RL: I have been a local scheduler/supervisor in my hometown of Thief River Falls, Minn., and also worked as an amateur hockey director for the Dallas Stars with the Dr. Pepper StarCenters.
UHM: What is the key to “getting along” with players and coaches?
RL: Treating [them] like you want to be treated and being honest.
UHM: Is there one game that stands out above all the rest?
RL: My most memorable game was working Sweden against Finland in 2003 at the World Championships in Helsinki, Finland. Finland lost, 6-5, after being up 5-1 halfway through the second period.

USA Hockey Standard of Play and Rules

A butt-ending penalty should be called when a player uses the shaft of the stick above the upper hand to jab or attempt to jab an opposing player.

A major penalty plus a game misconduct penalty shall be imposed, whether contact is made or not.



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