We hate them, we love to hate them, and sometimes we actually agree with them, but without NHL referees, there wouldn’t be NHL games. Rarely do we get to look at the game from their perspective.
Tuesday night, the Wild hosted Officials Appreciation Night, geared towards fans who work at the youth, high school or college level as referees or linesman. Along with an on-ice photo session, the night featured a Q-and-A with the four officials working the Wild/Jets game: referees Tim Peel and Eric Furlatt, and linesmen Vaughan Rody and Trent Knorr.
As a current youth referee, I was able to attend and get some insight into what NHL referees see, think and feel about the NHL, it’s players and coaches, and the game they love. Here are some of the highlights:
Q: Do you have a favorite rink or city to work in?
Peel: Minnesota, for sure (laughs). Actually, I grew up on the east coast of Canada as a huge Leafs fan. Every Saturday night in the 70s the Montreal Canadians would beat the Leafs. So I grew up hating Montreal, but now my favorite building to work in is Montreal. Places like Minnesota, most of the Canadian cities, Nashville - we’ve got a lot of great cities in the NHL. But for me, personally, it would be Montreal or Madison Square Garden.
Rody: Yeah, Madison Square Garden - you have to actually take an elevator to the fourth or fifth floor to get to the hockey rink. It’s a neat kind of experience. Another one for me is Edmonton. I used to watch the Oilers kick the hell out of my Winnipeg Jets at the time on Hockey Night in Canada, and my second NHL game was a Hockey Night in Canada game in Northlands Coliseum, and I was skating around going “wow, a month ago I was watching this on TV.” It’s pretty surreal.
Furlatt: For me, any of the Original Six buildings are a little bit special. I know Boston and Detroit’s old buldings are gone, but when we grew up watching those games on TV it was kind of special. There’s not a bad building in the NHL... I don’t see a downside of any building. I do prefer New York, LA... even Minnesota, I really like this building. I worked one of my first games here, and it’s always special to come back.
Knorr: I worked my first NHL game here, so its always a special place to come back to. I’d say Vancouver, as I was a Canucks fan growing up so you always kind of want to be on the big sheet with those guys.
Q: Do you have favorite teams, and does that affect how you call a game?
Furlatt: We’ve been reffing for so many years, quite frankly, I don’t watch the game the same way as everybody else. If I’m watching, I’m watching the position of the referees. Growing up, I was a Quebec Nordiques fan. But as soon as you get to the junior level, you don’t really have a preference. You go out there and you have a job to do and you give it your best. Just make sure you’re neutral and do your job.
Q: How many days are you on the road?
Furlatt: Between 125 and 150 days, 21 or 22 days a month.
Peel: I have a good wife. You have to have someone who is very understanding. I have two young kids and my wife basically raises them for six months. And then I come home and I try to say “we’re going to do things a certain way.” She gives me the look and says “hey, I’ve been running this thing. I have it under control.” For us, the NHL acronym stands for “No Home Life”. But then we’re off all summer, and I can spend all summer with my kids. But it’s the job we chose, and there are pros and cons with it like any job.
Q: What’s it like sharing the ice with the greatest players in the world?
Peel: A funny story - the first time I was ever dropping the puck for Mario Lemieux in Pittsburgh, I was so intimidated by him during my first year. I was dropping the puck at center ice, and I figured I had to say something to him. So I look down and say “those are nice skates.” Mario says, “thanks a lot.”
So it’s awesome being on the ice and seeing these guys like Ovi firing the puck 100 miles an hour. These athletes are just tremendous. It’s a thrill for us and sometimes we catch ourselves watching the Tampa Bay power play just zinging around and you have to remind yourself, “quit watching and focus on the game.” It’s an incredible honor just to be on the ice with them.
Q: How do you deal with mistakes? How do you avoid making make-up calls, or get in your own head?
Rody: I think this game is all about credibility. When you’re on the ice, you have to be credible. And when you miss a call, you feel bad about it as a professional. But as soon as you try to go and find something else to call or make something up, your credibility is shot, and the game suffers. You have to be cognizant of that.
Peel: And we do make mistakes, obviously. You guys see it on TV every night (laughs). But I’ve had one or two times this year where I knew it was a bad call and I was just praying that they’d kill off the penalty. But later I’d go over to the bench - there was one example in Columbus - and I went over to the player and said “hey, I know that was a bad call. I’m so glad you killed it off.” Two of the players told me, “that was really classy of you, Tim.” You can’t do that every game, because then they think you’re making mistakes every night. So you have to pick your spots. But, be humble and own it. And soon as you say that, their temperature level goes from high to much lower. It’s amazing.
Q: What do you think about instant replay in the NHL?
Rody: If we go out and make a mistake and we’re overturned by video review, as long as it serves the game, then we’re fine with it. Things happen at the speed of sound out there, sometimes it looks like a skate was on the ice or that there might have been goaltender interference. But as long as it’s good for the game and the right call was made at the end of the day, I think we all say that’s the way it should be.
Peel: Back in the day, there’s was nothing worse than leaving a building before video replay came in when we missed a call that resulted in a game-winning goal, to read about for the next three or four days in the newspaper. The fans sometimes don’t realize, sometimes we couldn’t eat or sleep for days (thinking about the call), so it’s nice in 2019 when all the leagues are using technology. There are pros and cons and good things and bad things, but like Vaughn said, it’s the right thing to do.
Q: Which current NHL players would make a good referee? What are the characteristics you’d look for?
Knorr: A guy with a high hockey IQ. Someone like Sidney Crosby would be phenomenal. The way he sees the game and reacts to the game and knows what’s going to happen before the play happens. Good communication is a huge thing as well. I think a guy like Zack Kassian from Edmonton... he’d be terrible (laughs).
Rody: It’s funny, we go on the ice and call a penalty or an icing that wraps around the corner and now it becomes a race for the puck. We blow the whistle and some of these players and coaches don’t know the rules. I think the real problem stems from when the announcers and the people in charge of broadcasting these games to the public don’t know the rules and misinform people. That, I think, is a bigger issue.
Thanks to the Minnesota Wild and the NHL referees for making an event like this possible.
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