Round 1 of the NHL playoffs: A lesson in awful officiating

The first round of the NHL playoffs has been jam packed with big men misbehaving; it’s the inexperienced, overwhelmed, and so far incredibly disappointing officiating crews that are failing the fans. Photo: ANDY CLARK/Reuters

CHICAGO, April 16, 2012 – When professional officials do their refereeing jobs, they are expected to be consistent and fair. Unfortunately for America’s hockey fans, however, the officiating in the opening rounds of this year’s NHL playoffs has been spineless.

When the game starts, the officials try not to blow their whistles too much, knowing that tweeting of that sort is not the reason that any fan goes to the game. When the games start to get chippy, however, and elbows are thrown and testosterone levels start to soar, the officials’ job is to blow the whistle if the players even think about giving someone else a wet-willy.

Or in the case of the 2012 NHL playoffs, guys usually start fighting early, continue fighting into the middle of the game, and have themselves a nice slugfest by the end. Hockey’s obviously a violent, physical sport, but this is a bit excessive, isn’t it? What’s behind hockey’s recent transformation into novice karate? (See video below for an example from the NHL playoffs.)

(Cut to officials sheepishly twiddling their thumbs.)

Not to say that the players don’t deserve their fair share of blame for being the actual culprits of the fighting, but this year’s playoff zebras have been as timid as ever when enforcing the rules that govern the game. It all started when Shea Weber slammed Henrik Zetterberg’s head into the glass on opening night, but that wasn’t the real issue with the play. What was?

He suited up for game two. He shouldn’t have been allowed to play for the next three or four games, yet there he was, being viciously booed each and every time he controlled the puck. This kind of inaction says more than any player action, because as one team executive said, the play “allowed it to be open season.” Players looked at the indecisiveness of the officials and saw a chance to beat the living hell out of each other and get away with it without so much as a one-game suspension.

Officials are finally starting to get the idea (respectively dealing Canuck Byron Bitz, Senator Mark Carkner and Ranger Carl Hagelin two, one and three game suspensions), but is it too late? Can the zebras recover from this awful start?

These officials are annually charged with keeping the players safe and the game fair, but it’s vital to note that in the past few years, the NHL’s officiating crew has gotten increasingly younger. The grizzled old veterans that are used to flinging themselves into a fray to break up a fight are gone, leaving these inexperienced officials to deal with the fear and uncertainty of being an NHL ref.

People expect them to be just as good as the last generation, but in reality, officiating is a skill in the same way that playing hockey is. You can’t just step out on the ice and be as good as people expect, put down consistently perfect performances to placate the bloodthirsty masses. You have to learn the art, learn what to look for, and learn what can and can’t be tolerated.

While the officials aren’t the bodies actually handing out suspensions, they need to be better and controlling the game. They need to know when to let the boys play, and know when to crack the whip. The players should have the maturity and self-awareness to calm down a bit, but the officials of the NHL must be able to create an atmosphere in which an out-of-control player is a liability to his team, not an asset.

If professional athletes are forced to perform well under the threat of a lost job, should officials be any different? The opening round of the NHL playoffs has been a true disgrace.

Get it together, refs, as unfortunate as it is, we need you to be competent to enjoy ourselves, and it’s about time that happened.

To contact Nick Goralka, see above to send him an e-mail containing a question, comment, or scathing insult. His work appears in Alley-oops for Touchdowns! and That Liberal Pinko in the Communities at the Washington Times Online.

This article is the copyrighted property of the writer and Communities @ Written permission must be obtained before reprint in online or print media. REPRINTING TWTC CONTENT WITHOUT PERMISSION AND/OR PAYMENT IS THEFT AND PUNISHABLE BY LAW.

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Nicholas Goralka

Nick Goralka is a sports enthusiast with eclectic interests. In addition to cheering on and suffering along with his Chicago teams, Nick is a competitively-ranked tennis player, enjoys debating real versus imaginary numbers in mathematical functions, and is a trumpet soloist in his Jazz ensemble which has performed throughout Chicago and for Mayor Rahm Emmanuel and Vice President Joe Biden at a recent charity fundraiser.  

Nick is still in high school, steadily working his way through his Statistics class, and learning more and more every day about analyzing the sports that he loves.

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