Hey, you! Yes, you, referee-hating hockey fan! I have excellent news, via a TSN report: The NHL is looking to hire officials! Now’s your chance to put on the stripes yourself and show us all how easy it is to move from your couch to ice level and police the fastest game on the planet.
I’m serious. I realize the NHL will only allow applications from amateurs every other year – the first “NHL Exposure Combine” will be invitation-only and include graduating players from North American universities and colleges – but when they do allow anyone from anywhere to walk in off the street, I want (a) all the blowhards to come out like they do for American Idol cattle calls; and (b) the NHL to turn the audition and training process into a TV reality show.
I’m still serious. It would be great for the game and for fans to see exactly how an official is trained and how difficult – how impossible – it is to get every on-ice call correct. Although the officiating world is a tight-knit group that doesn’t seek out publicity, the humanizing effect a TV show would have on officials would only help our understanding of and appreciation for it. And it would lead us to where many people think we should already be: an NHL that acknowledges the game is simply too fast to officiate with the naked eye and welcomes more assistance from video replay.
To a degree, I understand where the league is coming from when it comes to the zebras and video replay. The job is always going to have a human element to it and “mistakes” often are in the eye of the beholder. As well, you don’t want to subject every call an official makes to video, as the time delay would be hugely disruptive to the entertainment experience. But I’ve yet to hear a good reason there isn’t a video monitor situated in the scorer’s box officials can look to and confirm or adjust their call. It’s not a negative comment on officials to recognize the game is incredibly quick – and that the advent of high-definition TV makes the optics even worse when they get something wrong. Increased video replay must be seen and sold to referees a safety net for the profession, not a hanging noose.
But first thing’s first: let’s start a bunch of regional kickstarter campaigns to send the biggest irrational referee-hater in each community to the NHL’s first amateur Exposure Combine. Fans of schadenfreude will delight in seeing each of them flail and fail as they attempt to live up to the standards they so often ridicule.
Remember, referee-hating hockey fan: ask not what hockey and the officials can do for you; ask what you can do to shut up thousands of people like you.