Taking the heat on university ice

A pair of ragtag teams, both with miss-matched uniforms, grace the ice of the near-empty Ed Meagher arena on a Saturday night. This is usually where you’d find the Concordia Stingers doing battle with their cross-town rivals, the
McGill Redmen, to a sellout crowd. Tonight, however, the only fan in attendance is a girlfriend of one of the players. She came to read her novel in the freezing cold, rather than watch a hockey game.
A penalty call goes against one of the teams. With the game on the line, the frustration with the officials begins to surface. The player on his way to the penalty box puts a sailor to shame with his vast vocabulary of colourful
expletives to describe just how much he disagrees with the referees decision.
With a motion of two hands on his waist, the official motions the player off the ice, all due in part to his profane behavior. The girl in the stands continues flipping through the pages of her novel, seemingly lost in a world more interesting than the one taking place in the sea of testosterone below.
“I’ve been called every name in the book. They always have to swear, and everything they do is so unnecessary,” said Concordia intramural hockey referee Rob Imrie.
Imrie, a 23 year-old Political Science student at Concordia, has been a referee for the university’s recreational league for the past two years. In the 20 games he’s officiated, he’s dealt with at least one instance of verbal abuse each game. He reacted by doling out eight major penalties to some of these disgruntled players. This is only a small portion of the 82 penalties attributed to verbal abuse this season out of the 261 games played. From the league’s five divisions, 1644 penalties were called in total-an average over six per game.
Despite having the frame of a football player, it doesn’t deter players from railing Imrie on the ice. He’s dealt with and seen a lot of abuse, both verbal and physical, towards himself and his fellow referees.
“Last game a referee had a puck shot at him, and last night we had a bench clearing brawl,” he explains. “I’ve been punched accidentally by players who were in a skirmish. Sometimes I think it’s ridiculous. They’re supposed to be
adults and not act like children.”
Echoing in the corridors adjacent to ice-level, however, are the dressing rooms where players like Avi Baron are venting their frustrations over too many bad calls. Soaked in sweat after enjoying his team’s last game of the year, he feels the refereeing hasn’t gotten better over the course of the season.
“I haven’t noticed any improvement in the officiating,” said a disappointed Baron, a History student at Concordia. “[The referees] blew as many calls today as they did since the beginning of the year. They miss simple things like icings and off sides.”
Despite his disappointment of the officiating in the league, Baron makes it a point not to get mad at the referees on the ice. He saves his complaints for his fellow players in the dressing room after the game. At the opposite end of the rink, another steam-filled room tells a different story.
“The officiating is decent for the league we’re in. It’s not that bad,” said Jason Masanotti, a Concordia alumni. “It got better throughout the season and you can see that they try their best. A lot of the referees are new, but they
improved along the way.”
Masanotti and a majority of his teammates shared the sentiment that the referees
were young, improving, and doing their best. Ray Kirkwood, the league’s head official, is in agreement as well. Based out of the arena’s recreational sports office, he has been officiating for a total of 12 years, eight of which have been spent in charge of the referees at Concordia. An official in the league
himself, he attributes many factors to how a player interacts with a referee in the way they do.
“A lot of players misunderstand the rules,” said Kirkwood. “They also misunderstand the role of the official within the game, which leads to a lot of misconceptions. Some see him as a constable on the ice, rather than someone
there to make sure the players play according to the rules.”
Kirkwood has found that the problem of referee abuse has been getting worse at the intramural ranks year after year, and is a reflection of the trend that’s happening in society today, not just in sports. Another reason players may be getting frustrated with the officiating at Concordia could be in the amount of training they receive as oppose to regular referees who go through a full accreditation course. The full course involves a weekend of instruction of the rules and practical instruction, followed by practical assessment.
On the contrary, the ‘mini-camp’ held at the beginning of the season at the university consists of teaching the basic playing rules of the game, while working on the two referee system and it’s positioning. After that, it’s all on the job training, along with assessments two or three times a year. This gives feed back on a referee’s weak points and how he can improve his skills as an official. The high turnover rate of referees keeps a steady flow of newcomers every year, which Kirkwood believes causes a constant circle of problems.
“It’s a real viscous cycle. We’re losing a lot of officials who become most effective after two or three years. The players have to deal with the turnover and with the new referees who don’t have the necessary experience,” he said.
Kirkwood believes that the players themselves need to be taught the true role the officials play and what they are trying to accomplish once they step on the ice.
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