by Jan Snyder
Kevin Pollock is an NHL referee, one of those hard-working guys who enable all of the fans to enjoy hockey games. Without them, there would be no games. Whether we always agree with their decisions or not, they all try to do the best they can to keep order and above all, ensure that the contests are played as fairly as possible.
Although there are two officials for each game, the refs aren’t assigned as pairs. Over the course of the season, they will work with a counterpart more than once, but not because the schedule falls that way.
“It’s not that bad because over the course of the season, it only takes one or two games to get an idea of what your partner’s tendencies are,” Pollock said. “We are really conscious of getting a team effort implemented, so we sit down in the dressing room before the game and talk about it. Even though we try to referee two as one, so we both cover the ice, we reassure each other that if one of us sees a penalty, we’ll call it, even if it’s not in our end. The betterment of the game is the most important thing to us.”
The NHL has been working with a two referee system for seven seasons, which means there are four officials on the ice in addition to the players. How do they manage to stay out of the way of play and players while the game is in progress and still see what’s going on?
“We try to stay out of the way but with the speed of the game now and the way the rules are being called in the neutral zone with no red line, you’re always going to miss a call here or there. It’s an unbelievably fast game now. Sometimes the defensemen get the puck and get rid of it as fast as they can, high off the glass and you just hope you’re not in the line of fire. There aren’t a lot of chances to get out of the way. Some of it is luck and some is positioning.”
Pollock doesn’t wear a shield, although many refs have added them. His wife asks him why he doesn’t wear one – and he doesn’t really have a very good answer for her! But he needs a good look at the ice to be sure he sees everything he needs to be focusing on during the battle.
“Nobody is perfect and we all make mistakes, but if you work hard, limit your mistakes and treat the players and coaches with respect, all you’re asking back is they give you a fair shake and understand where you’re coming from and treat you with respect as well. I believe overall they understand how tough a job we have.”
Still they do the job, watching the play and the players, dodging errant pucks and sticks, and enduring boos from the audience who may not be happy with their calls, and getting together to talk about calls that may be controversial. You may have noticed the refs “huddling up” a little more this season. That is by design, but they don’t do it unless it’s really necessary and they try not to interrupt the flow of the game. They are trying to develop more of a team concept among the officials.
“If there is a play happening that we’re not 100% sure about, we come together and make the right call for the betterment of the game. The puck moves so quickly you might want to ask everyone, ‘Did you have a good look?’ Generally the right call is made.”
Wouldn’t you, the fan, like to be a fly on the ice, so to speak, and hear what’s being said during a game? What does a player have to do or say to be penalized or thrown out?
“We say as officials we don’t want to take emotion out of the game. Sometimes a player is going really hard and working really hard and he may think he got fouled or think he didn’t foul the other player. If it’s just emotion and what he says is just about the call, we tend to try and let him vent a bit and steer clear. But if they get personal and it’s not about the call, we basically say, enough’s enough.”
Pollock's ultimate goals involve working on the biggest stages.
“Ultimately, like a player, I’d like to do a Stanley Cup final. Everyone on our staff is striving for that. That’s part of what motivates us and makes us competitive among ourselves. If the NHL continues to play in the Olympics, I’d like to be there one day too.”