Fan, coach abuse causing referee crisis in hockey

Greg Wyshynski

What’s your preferred method for mocking the referee at a hockey game?

Booing? Hissing? Chanting “ref you suck!” or something a bit more whimsical like “I’m blind/I’m deaf/I wanna be a ref”? I always opted for the official’s name followed by “sucks”, as long as the referee’s name fit the rhyme scheme. (Bill McCreary was perfect; Tim Peel, not so much.)

The point is that every fan has abused an official in some way, or at least attempted to. These people have the daunting task of speed skating for 60 minutes while trying to tell grown men they have to sit in a box of sin for cheating, and having every mistake magnified into a pattern of abject incompetence. Reffin’ ain’t easy, and we all make it exponentially harder.

Which brings us to Saskatoon and its Minor Hockey Association, where fans and coaches are known to be quite unforgiving with the referees. They curse and yell and intimidate the on-ice officials.

On-ice officials who also happen to be teenagers.

The verbal abuse has gotten so bad that it’s affecting the League’s officiating roster. The Saskatoon Referees Association has seen its numbers decline from 200 to 160 during 2013, a 20 percent decline. Saskatoon Minor Hockey Association director Kelly Boes told the media that the refs were resigning due to that abuse.

From the Star Phoenix:

"Our people in charge of our minor hockey zones jumped on it right away and have basically indicated to their parents, coaches and team officials, 'Please accept this as notice that you're on notice.'"

Youth tend to start as referees around the ages of 12 to 14. When they get a bit older, some leave for more lucrative part-time jobs that don't come with the same aggravation, SRA co-ordinator Derek Blosk said.

"The coaches seem to really get caught up in the most minute part of the games," he said. "I really struggle with the fact they say the referee wasn't fair, didn't call the right penalties, but they've never taken into consideration the fact that it is a kid at an amateur level, helping the game go on."

Knowing that young officials are easily intimidated in the moment, the league asks them to file complaints after the game regarding abusive coaches. But if an official does decide to eject a coach, that’s an automatic 2-game suspension from the league for that bench boss as well.