Behind the Whistle – A Ref’s Perspective

Referee (n) – an official who watches a game or match closely to ensure that the rules are adhered to and to arbitrate on matters arising from the play.

Love ‘em or hate ‘em, the game of hockey would not exist without referees. More often than not, elite refs once played the game at a high level themselves. Who better to make the calls than an individual who once thought the game as a player.

We asked former players, Brandon Gawryletz (NHL/AHL official) and Furman South (AHL official), about their perspective from the other side of the stripes.

Give us a snapshot of your hockey career?

Brandon – I grew up playing minor hockey in Trail, BC. Played junior A hockey for the Trail Smoke Eaters (BCHL) and college at the University of Alaska Fairbanks (NCAA Div 1).

Furman – I grew up playing youth & high school hockey in Pittsburgh, PA. From there I went on to play Junior A in Boston, MA for the Bay State Breakers (EJHL) and college at Robert Morris University (NCAA Div 1).

How did you get involved in refereeing, what levels do you ref, and what is your favourite part?

Brandon – I got involved refereeing while living in Phoenix, AZ through a friend, and I currently officiate the AHL and the NHL. My favorite part is being on the ice and taking on new challenges every game.

Furman – I got involved in refereeing when I finished up my college hockey career. I currently officiate pro hockey in the AHL, and junior A hockey in the NAHL & USHL. My favorite part of refereeing is staying involved on the ice as part of a team and giving back to the sport I played my entire life.

What is the biggest difference in the caliber of play from minor hockey to junior/college?

Furman – I think the biggest difference is the speed, physicality, and intensity. The college/junior players are bigger and stronger and all trying to prove themselves in order to get to the next level. This makes for a much more intense environment and style of play than compared to minor hockey.

What’s the biggest difference in the caliber of play from junior/college to pro?

Brandon – The biggest difference in the different leagues are the puck skills players possess and the way they think the game.

What are the top 3 challenges you face as a referee?

  1. Brandon – The most important challenges we face are being consistent and fair throughout every game as well as making sure the players have a safe playing environment.
  2. Furman – I think one of the biggest challenges for me comes in communication. As a refere, you always have to be communicating with players, coaches and partners. Knowing how and when to communicate and have conversations with players and coaches can be a challenge and can always be improved.
  3. Furman – Also knowing who on the teams you can talk to. Some players are easier to talk to than others. Having a couple guys on each team you are familiar with and able to talk to can be very helpful if a player start to cross the line.

Define an example of a good penalty to take & a bad penalty to take?

Brandon – A good penalty might be one that prevents a 2-0 on your net, whereas a bad penalty would be a lazy hook in the offensive zone or a retaliation.

What is the most misunderstood call in hockey?

Furman – I think one that a lot of people don’t understand is how a hook or trip can be called at the same time that embellishment is. People will generally think “well if its a dive, then how can it be a hook too?” Embellishment is the act of exaggerating the effect. So there can be a hook on a player that is a penalty, but once that player exaggerates the effect by jumping or spinning, that’s where the embellishment penalty is. This is why both penalties are warranted in this situation.

If you could change one rule about the game, what would it be?

Furman – At the professional level I would change the delay of game penalty for shooting the puck over the glass in the defensive zone. This is almost never done intentionally even though it is an automatic penalty. I feel that it is an unnecessary rule and effects games often as it seems to happen a lot late in the game when teams are trying to clear the puck. I think it would be sufficient if the defensive team was not allowed to change if they shoot the puck out of play, rather than having to serve a penalty for an unintentional act.

What is the best way for a team to approach you after a difficult call was made that was not in their favour?

Brandon – After a call doesn’t go in a coach’s favor, the way to approach an official is to ask a question about the play. If the coach doesn’t have a legitimate question that he/she asks in a respectful manner then there is no reason to talk with the coach. Far too often in minor hockey coaches want to talk to officials so they can tell them what they think should of been called instead of having a respectful conversation.

Leave a Reply