The Importance of Awareness for a Linesman
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A CHL linesman once told me that “linesmen go to work at the whistles”. Although it took me a while to understand it, basically for a linesman, your job is only starting once a whistle goes. Whether it’s for a penalty, a goal, a goalie freezing the puck, among other things, once that whistle goes, the linesmen need get to work. What that means is that once the play is stopped, linesmen need to be aware of potential “hot spots” on the ice and go to them in order to be able to prevent confrontations between players.
As was referenced earlier, having good linesmen on a game can make the game proceed much more smoothly and help the referee by preventing penalties from occurring. After-whistle awareness is the best method of doing this.
To understand where hot-spots may arise, you need to look at the emotional state of the players as well as what is happening on the ice. For example, if there is a big hit between two players, one may want to retaliate, so you need to anticipate getting between the players at the whistle. Another way to look is to know which who the agitators on each team are, and to pay attention to them and any “verbal jousting” going on. There are lots of indicators to look at to understand potential issues that may arise. It’s all about preparation and paying attention during the game.
Once the whistle does go – you need to give your full effort to finding and getting to these potential hotspots. You need to get to work, in other words. Even if there is no obvious confrontation occurring, getting to the net or other possible hotspots is a great deterrent. Experienced officials have often told me that for the very first stoppage at the net during a game, they want their linesmen getting to the net as fast as possible, to send a positive message to both teams that the linesmen are ready to work, and to deter possible penalties from occurring after the whistle.
The biggest mistake that new linesmen will make is to search for the puck after a whistle. The thought process is that because their responsibility is get the face-off set up, that should be the priority. Experienced officials will tell you that the puck is the last thing you are thinking about after the whistle. Once the whistle goes, get to work, find the hotspots, stop any confrontations, then worry about the puck.
An important note on scrums or altercations that I have learned through experience is that if a player does something that causes a scrum, such as slashing a player or making a bad hit, the easiest way to stop that scrum from escalating is to get to that player first, and escort him or her from the scrum. Be sure to not shove the player or humiliate the players by dragging them down. Also, for the sake of player safety, if there are two players in an altercation, do not hold only one player if another is loose – stay between the two players until your partner arrives to help.
Of course, this awareness is not limited to only after the whistle. As a linesman, you need to be aware beyond your basic responsibilities. For example, as a back linesman, you need to focus on potential issues away from the play, including possible infractions, premature substitution, net off moorings, penalty doors that are open, or possible scrums. It’s this type of awareness that can distinguish officials, and make supervisors recommend you for higher levels.