Referee Phil Power on Officiating

Phil Power of Hockey Nova Scotia, tells Minor.Hockey.Life what it’s like to officiate minor hockey.

“Our job as referee, or linesman is to ensure the game is played safely and fairly,” says Phil Power. “Sounds simple, but really, it’s complex.”

About the most satisfying, and least satisfying part of being an official, Phil says, “The most satisfying part of being an official is seeing your own personal progress, from starting to officiate at the house/minor levels, moving up and eventually getting to the highest level which is AUS hockey around here.

The least satisfying part is the abuse we take, some days although you know you are doing your job and even have a supervisor there that has said you did the job well, is the abuse. Coaches, parents, fans, players, think they know the rules and sometimes fly off the handle.

It’s an emotional game we play in and lots of time you will see the tunnel vision by the parent in the stand; ‘how come you missed that, did this, etc.’ Well there is only one ref on the ice and two linesman. The linesman can only call major penalties and still must wait until a stoppage to inform the ref.

Sometimes you see parents in the stands going bananas over a trip in the corner behind the play when the referee is watching the net for a goal.”

So what got him in interested in the game and what keeps him interested?

Like many officials, Phil became interested in the role after minor hockey ended because he wanted to stay involved in the game.

“A good friend of mine, whom I worked with, was an official and he introduced me to the referee-in-chief (RIC) at the time. He made it very easy to get involved as he had all the answers and I started officiating that year.”

Officiating in Nova Scotia is different than in other areas of Canada because of the support system, says Phil.

“In my eyes we are leaders in the officiating community.We have great staff, great supervisors, and our program is always growing. We hold development sessions often. Other officials in some regions aren’t as lucky.

We wondered if referees and linesmen prepared for the games they officiate the same way our kids do—with routine and pre-game ritual.

Well, they do. Sort of. “It depends on the level of the game,” Phil tells us. For example, he prepares for a game the day of. “From when I wake up in the morning, to what kind of game it is, will dictate my routine, means, workout, et cetera.

And what do they talk about in the dressing room before a game?

“All officials are a tight-knit team. We talk about our friends and family when we arrive at the rink (as we are there usually about one hour before game time). After our warm up and chat, we then go into game mode and talk about several things, which may include who the good players are, who the instigators are, to our positioning and roles.”

Are these guys busy? You bet.

Phil has been officiating for about 10 years and he works three games each week, on average, officiating at the upper levels. Some weeks, he officiates at five, other weeks, it’s only one or two. Although, Phil mentions that he’s “seen kids do up to six to ten ages in a week,” depending on the association and how many refs are available.

Sometimes it can be difficult to switch from one age group to another.

“At the minor hockey it is. I did minor hockey for seven years and I know that one night you may have a Bantam AAA game and before that you may have an Atom A game. It was difficult to switch gears quickly, but that’s part of being an official. [You must be] able to deal with change and get your mind focussed quickly.

Team parents will sometimes say that “the refs” won the game for the opposing team, but while poor officiating can have an effect on the outcome of a game, Phil tells us that there’s “no such thing” as a homer.

“To most officials, officiating is strictly black and white. You have two teams competing against each other to win. There will be emotions (in the stands), good calls, bad calls, mistakes. But there should never be favouritism as it is our job to be fair.”

So, while there can be mistakes among the good calls, we wanted to know if there was a time when someone with as much experience as Phil second-guessed a call that either he made, or a peer made.

“Absolutely, there have been times where I have made a call and went, oh no I think I made a mistake. There are also times where I have been on the ice as a linesman and thought the referee made a mistake.

The key is to learn from your mistakes and then talk about them with your peers during an intermission or after the game.

Young kids don’t like to talk with each other, so as a supervisor in minor hockey I’m always reinforcing the team aspect and I tell them ‘Take 30 seconds and talk at the end of the first, if you thought there was a missed call, or something that can be improved on. Don’t take it as negative criticism, take it as positive and that the next period will be better!’

In addition to the number games to officiate and different levels of play each season seems to bring an increased focus on one particular offence. One year it might be digging at the goalie, the next it might be hitting from behind. Is there a directive from the association to pay specific attention, or watch carefully for these types of offences?

Yes every year Hockey Canada comes out with a rules emphasis. This year the mail rule emphasis is shared respect. There are usually a few rules emphasis, the other year was checking to the head, checking from behind, and the standard of play.

Rude spectators are part of every game, which has got to make things difficult in terms of focussing on the game, or remaining impartial. Or, are you able to easily block it out?

They definitely don’t affect me in regards to calling the game (for example, home fans are giving it to me so I’m going to give the home team to get them off my back), but I must admit they are not always easy to block out. For a younger official, I really think that rude or belligerent spectators can affect the way that official calls a hockey game.

While that sounds reasonable, I wonder what an official might REALLY want say to a mouthy spectator.

“LOL,” says Phi, “I don’t think we can print that!”

Phil Power played hockey as a kid, up to midget. Although his children are too young (four- and two years-old) to be involved in the game, he goes to many games as both the manager of officiating and as the coordinator of risk management. 

And yes, he’s more forgiving of a “bad” call as long as the officials learn from it. “If they don’t learn from it,” Phil asserts, “then they shouldn’t be there.”


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