When you’re watching a hockey game, do you ever think about the referees? I mean other than when you get angry with them over a call or non-call? Did you ever wonder about them or what their lives are like? Where would the games be without them? There simply wouldn’t be any! Someone has to keep order on the ice and that’s the job of the referees.
I recently spent some time talking with NHL ref Kevin Pollock. #33 in your programs, Kevin Pollock has been an NHL referee since the 1999/2000 season. He has been involved in 68 playoff games and more than 400 regular season games. In 2003, he was one of the refs at the NHL game played outdoors in Edmonton at the Heritage Classic.
He was gracious enough to talk to me for awhile on one of his rare off days. We talked about some of the aspects of his career and I thought you might be interested in a little insight into a side of the game we don’t think about much as fans.
For instance, did you know that the refs make their own travel arrangements through a travel service and book their own hotel rooms? When the games are over, they are usually unable to get a flight to their next destination because they fly commercially and there are few fights after 10:00 p.m. or so when they finish for the night.
“It’s not all bad, but after a game you can’t sleep and end up being up until 1:00 a.m. or so,” Pollock said. “It would be nice to jump on a plane and get to the next city because you’re still awake. We have some very early morning trips to the airport because of security.”
We tend to take the games for granted and always assume, correctly, that the refs will be in place at game time. But we don’t see what goes on behind the scenes when weather causes changes in plans. These guys have to keep a sharp eye on the weather and try to stay ahead of problems, but they can’t always do that.
“Last week I was in Colorado on Saturday and was supposed to be going home on Sunday. But then a snowstorm hit the east coast. Brad Watson [another ref] was in Detroit trying to get to St. Louis. I got a call early Sunday morning saying you have to get to St. Louis and do the game because Brad can’t get there. Things like that arise and we all deal with it.”
One thing the refs don’t have to deal with is celebrity. Since the names were taken off the backs of their shirts and the helmets were added, no one recognizes them after the game – which is probably a good thing!
“I always say we’re the “necessary evil” of the game. It doesn’t matter what call you make, half the crowd agrees with it and the other half doesn’t. We take pride in being keepers of the game and it doesn’t matter to us if Team A or Team B wins, as long as it’s a fair game. It is a fast game and calls are missed but they aren’t missed intentionally. If we had our way, we’d be perfect but there’s never been a perfect ref and there never will be.”
Pollock says the new technology makes their job even harder because those of us watching on TV see the play from so many angles, but not necessarily the one the ref has and that is all he can go by.
“In the ‘70s and ‘80s there might have been only one or two cameras following the play. Now there are probably eight to10 and they’re all at different angles - they’re in the net, in the boards. I wish they’d show the camera angle from what the ref is able to see and you’d get a little better perspective on why the call was made or not made.”
But often times the technology will prove that the correct call was made by the ref. With the speed of the game and the number of bodies on the ice, it’s amazing that they see all that they do.
NEXT TIME. PART 2: More inside info from Kevin on how the referees work together on the ice and keep the game moving.