Approaching the Playoffs as a Referee

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Approaching the Playoffs as a Referee

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So playoffs are here, or right around the corner depending on the leagues you are working. It’s always a fun time of the year – where emotions are amped-up, and the game gets a little faster and more intense.

Whether you are working playoffs for Atom or the NHL, you are asked to perform to a higher level than the regular season. Because of what is at stake for the teams, each call you make can be amplified and therefore mean more to each team than a call in the regular season.

As referees – how do we approach the playoffs? Is it different than how you approach the game in the regular season?

Here is what I have learnt in my time officiating hockey. Because the stakes are higher, you need to come to the rink with an increased level of focus and preparation. While during the regular season you might come to the rink with enough time to prepare and focus, come playoff time, there needs to be that extra emphasis placed on getting ready. Whether that means getting to the rink 15 minutes earlier than you normally would, or getting those extra few stretches in before the game, you need to be ready to go.

Even before that – you should make sure that the night before you are getting to bed early, getting a healthy meal in, and avoiding any alcohol (if you are old enough). The day of the game you should communicate with your fellow officials early-on and plan how you are getting to the rink. You should take a look at which teams are playing, know what happened if there was a previous playoff game between the two teams, and know the standards that were enforced, as well as which players to be aware of on the ice.

Consistency is very important. Especially in playoff time. Remember, that in some playoff series, some teams may be seeing each other as much as 7 times over the course of a couple weeks. As officials, we need to strive to be consistent, and therefore you should communicate with your fellow officials as well as supervisors working the playoffs to ensure that you know which standards were in place for previous games.

For example, you need to know that maybe slashing penalties were called tightly in the previous games. Or perhaps that there have been a lot of scrums around the net, so it might take some early penalties on scrums to settle it down. Or even for linesman, you might need to tighten-up icings and avoid giving that extra bit of space to teams firing the puck down.

These are all important take-aways in the way rules are enforced.

There should also be a knowledge of which players should be given extra attention during the games. As we know, playing repeated games against one opponent will likely lead to some hostilities and increased anger between different players. You should know if there was a bad hit in a previous game, or a fight, or a player who was aggravating situations. As a crew, knowing this information will give you the upper hand in preventing similar situations from arising.

A good example of this would be knowing a player who is playing on that “edge” during a game. The referees can communicate with that player, letting him know what will be accepted that game, and what will not. The linesman can also play an important role, by getting into scrums quickly on whistles, and preventing players from fighting or scuffling. Preventing penalties is huge in the playoffs, and as linesman, you can help out your referees by preventing the need to call certain penalties.

As officials, we need to also be aware of the increased emotions for the players and coaches. Avoid having “rabbit ears” looking for infractions. People’s seasons are on the line, and we need to be aware of that.

Overall – make sure you bring your full effort. Playoffs are not just for the players that are competing. Often there can be competition between officials to progress to the next rounds. While we don’t get a trophy at the end of the day, it can be a point of pride to progress to the final round, or to that championship game. Bring your full effort and focus, and of course, enjoy the games. There is nothing more exciting than playoff hockey, and you should enjoy every minute of it.

So – do you have any tips for other officials to incorporate during the playoffs? What approach do you take? Is there a different penalty standard in the playoffs? We would love to hear from you.

Before we go – I wanted to leave you with a little video to get you fired up for the playoffs.


Team Stripes