How Important is Skating Ability as an Official?

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How Important is Skating Ability as an Official?

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For this week’s blog – I wanted to touch on another important topic, and that’s skating.

The speed of the game has gotten so fast that it has become critical for officials to be able to match that speed.

The reason why this is so important is because of how crucial it is to have the best sightlines. There are other reasons like being able to get out of the way and what not, however, if you aren’t able to keep up with the speed of the game you will be caught behind the play or will need to guess on a slash or a hooking penalty.

The reason why so many leagues have incorporated the 4-man system is because of this very reason. While having three referees was the way it worked for many years, adding a second referee to the game has drastically improved sightlines and has reduced the amount of missed calls. Now if one referee is blocked out of seeing a certain play, there is a good chance his partner will be able to see it.

Getting back to foot speed however, I have seen sometimes supervising younger officials where there will be a quick turnover and the back referee needs to pivot quickly and chase the play down the ice. There are things that will happen that will require quick movement to be able to stay with. Worse case scenario can be missing a goal or having a bad angle on a potential penalty.

I was speaking with some professional officials recently, and they pointed out there is a trend nowadays to get former players to start officiating. The reason why leagues are doing this is because the players are usually great skaters and can keep up with the pace of the game. In addition, of course is the ability to understand the game, and the ability to communicate with the players.

Even if a referee has the best judgement in the world – if they can’t keep up with the play, they won’t be able to move up. In fact, I would say that skating ability is the most important factor for ambitious referees to move up the officiating ranks.

The best way to improve this is to get as much ice time as possible. So, if that means taking games that you wouldn’t normally do – go for it! But more importantly, work hard and do your best every game that you are working! I see this so often when young referees are way too relaxed on the ice, and when the play isn’t around them they will just sit around and puck gaze.

I see this a lot with linesman especially. Where they are at their blue line watching the play down low.

What I tell the linesman I supervise is to look “in the game” – even if they are waiting at the blue line. Bend your knees, follow the play attentively. Move around. Especially when you are working the blue line for plays that are close to being off-side. Even small things like getting to net after a whistle – that extra second or two a linesman might take if they’re slower could result in punches being thrown. Getting into a scrum quickly takes great skating!

It’s this effort in each and every game that will help to improve your skating. Same as referees, word hard and move your feet – work your edges as well. Don’t get into the bad habit of slowing down for a lower level game.

Try and get on the ice for as many extra clinics as possible. Check with your local association to see what the availabilities are. Even open skates are great opportunities to go out there and improve your skating.

If you are serious – look into working with a skating coach. There are power skating instructors in most hockey cities. They offer pretty reasonable rates, especially if you work as part of a group. There are certainly differences between skating as a player and as an official – for example, I remember Don Koharski telling me many years ago at a camp to “skate higher” as a referee – and not be pitched so far forward as we do when we skate as a player. 

Fitness levels are equally as important – get into a gym or field and work on your foot speed, balance, and strength. Sprinting and quick explosive exercises will improve how quickly you can accelerate and move. When we launch our Academy – there will be a free ebook that provides some training guides to improve your on-ice fitness. 

Remember, skating ability is extremely important in today’s game. If you are ambitious and want to work higher levels, you need to ensure your skating is up to par. Take the time to get on the ice more, work hard and develop your abilities!

Yours in Stripes,