THN in Sochi: Controversy in women’s hockey turns to refereeing

Ken Campbell
Joy Tottman

SOCHI – This much we know about Joy Tottman: She is the governance and compliance officer for the Sport and Recreation Alliance in Britain. She has refereed at the women’s level internationally for 15 years, including at the 2006 and 2010 Winter Olympics and she does a fair bit of refereeing of men’s professional hockey in the English Premier League.

And depending upon what side you’re on, she either made a mockery of the women’s gold medal game at the Olympics or had the guts to make bold calls in overtime.

Much of the talk surrounding women’s hockey at the Olympics, before this game, centered around whether or not the sport is competitive enough world-wide to even belong in the Olympics at all. International Ice Hockey Federation president Rene Fasel poured cold water on that notion when he declared it is not going anywhere. And don’t forget, Fasel is the winter sports representative on the executive board of the International Olympic Committee, so he holds a fair bit of sway.

Now the talk will be whether or not the refereeing needs to get better at this level. What will come under scrutiny will be two penalty calls Tottman made in overtime which led to a 5-on-3 power play, on which Canada scored in overtime. With Canada killing a penalty and creating a 4-on-3 during overtime, Tottman whistled Jocelyn Lamoureux for a controversial slashing penalty.

Then with Hayley Wickenheiser on a breakaway and Hilary Knight trying to catch her, Wickenheiser went down and Knight was called for crosschecking, of all things. When she made the call, Tottman pointed to center ice, which led everyone, including Canadian coach Kevin Dineen, to believe Wickenheiser would be awarded a penalty shot. Knight later said Tottman made “a bogus call,” and that she didn’t make contact with Wickenheiser and USA coach Katey Stone offered a stern, “No comment,” when asked what she thought of the call.

It’s difficult to fathom Wickenheiser would fall without there being at least some contact being made and it’s absolutely ridiculous to suggest she took a dive. She was on a breakaway in overtime of the gold medal game and had the puck on her stick with the opportunity to end the game. Players don’t dive in those circumstances.

But the questions will continue to linger, on both the Lamoureux and Knight penalties. It’s hard to argue that Tottman was out of her element, given her history refereeing women’s hockey. And she was assigned the gold medal game, not because she’s from a neutral country, but because she earned it with her work in previous games in the tournament. But it does beg the question of whether the officiating at the highest level must improve.

“The game is growing in leaps and bounds,” Stone said. “The speed and pace of the game is tremendous and it’s a great, great product. We have to make sure that every part of the game operations and game management is developing at as a fast a rate as it possibly can.”

“Look at it from their shoes,” Dineen said. “I don’t know how much in-game preparation they get. You look on the men’s side…and they’re seeing 80, 100 games a year and they see a lot of scenarios play out. They get exposed to that, but on the women’s side, they don’t see all the things that play out. At the end of it, I think the game was decided on the ice.”