Everybody loves an underdog, so they say. That is, unless you are a National Hockey League (NHL) ref. In which case, it seems conveniently in your job description to turn a blind eye to imposing team infractions and systematically oppress the Edmonton Oilers.
True fans of any sport should have enough respect for the game to want to see it called fairly, regardless of if it helps or hinders their team.
The key word here being fairly. And that just does not seem to be happening much in the NHL these days, especially for the Edmonton Oilers.
It’s always easy to blame the officials when something goes wrong in sports, and, admittedly, a lot has gone wrong for the Oilers this season. However, a mounting pile of evidence suggests many of the referees ought to bear the weight of fans’ displeasure for their seemingly deliberate incompetence.
Taking into account the definition of team as a group of people working together to achieve a common goal, I would have to say my least favourite team in the NHL would have to be The Referees.
The Oilers faced off against the Florida Panthers Feb. 12, 2018. While it was a high-scoring game for both teams the Oilers came up short with a 7-5 loss. True, the game was marred with mistakes from both sides, e.g. Oilers defenseman Matt Benning’s slash, giving the Panthers a penalty shot on which they scored. But the Oilers also got the short end of the stick when it came to reffing calls.
After being dinged with too many men on the ice the Panthers were not penalized for the exact same scenario later in the game. Also during the same game one of the Panthers players flipped the puck up over the low part of the glass. But, unsurprisingly, no delay of game was called. Vincent Trocheck could be seen hitting Connor McDavid in the back of the head and slashing him multiple time, consecutively, with no calls on that either.
It is not like this game was a one-off either.
We can look back at the blatant ignoring of goalie interference between Oilers goalie Cam Talbot and Anaheim’s Corey Perry in Game 4 of the series between the two teams last season. Apparently, it is perfectly fine to practically sit on a goalie’s face-mask and roll your body along their arm, preventing the blocker from coming up.
The idea of a referee conspiracy against certain players, on and off the ice, is nothing new.
Back in 2014, Kerry Fraser, hockey analyst, broadcaster, and former senior referee in the NHL, confirmed what is so evident: refs are biased. They hold grudges and can have an agenda when it comes to their job. Fraser confirmed the internal “Most Wanted” list of players officials share amongst themselves regarding players they want to “get back at” for duping or embarrassing them.
It may not be scientifically proven but refs seem to be much more lenient in passing over bad calls when it comes to American teams.
There are many players throughout the league I could do without, due to unsportsmanlike behavior and general bad attitude, but it is just so much more disappointing when it comes from the officials, the ones supposedly there to uphold the standards of the same.
Of the six original teams four were American and two were Canadian. The NHL headquarters is located in Manhattan. According to the NHL Officials Association there are 34 current referees and 34 linesmen, as well as eight minor league refs and four minor league linesmen who split their time between the NHL and the AHL (American Hockey League). Combining those numbers together, 15 individuals have U.S.A. birthplaces, 63 have Canadian birthplaces, one is from Russian and one is from the Czech Republic.
This is purely speculation on my part — but hey, this is an opinion column after all — but I cannot help but wonder if more than a few of these refs, especially those not native to the United States are over-compensating when it comes to American teams to prove their worth. After all, the NHL is making a push to grow the sport in the American market.
Hockey is a fast paced game and it is acceptable a ref may miss a call in the heat of the moment, hence video review. But if refs are going to plainly ignore what is clearly in front of their faces what is the point of even having a system?
Here in the real world when somebody is completely incapable of doing their job there is usually a high chance they are going to be turfed. If the referees of the NHL cannot keep up with the pace of the game and honor their duties they should find something a little more their speed; perhaps the World Snail Racing Championships. The 2018 event will be held July 21 in Congham, Norfolk, UK, for any refs interested.
Amelia Naismith is a reporter with the Pipestone Flyer and regularly writes an opinion column for the paper.