'Rules' making refs' job easier

JIM CRESSMAN -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 2:16 PM ET

Sean Reid and his striped colleagues can give up their accounting jobs and get back to what was always expected of them -- refereeing hockey games.

One of the sport's unwritten rules -- although it was common knowledge -- was that the referees officiate a game based on the score and the clock.

But that's all changing under the new standard of rule enforcement being introduced in major junior and North American professional leagues this season.

"We are totally rethinking the way we officiate," Reid said as he prepared for last night's OHL preseason game between the London Knights and Mississauga IceDogs at the John Labatt Centre.

"Before this, we 'managed' a game. You liked to have 60 per cent of the penalties in the first period, 30 per cent in the second and 10 per cent in the third.

"Now, the league has told us we shouldn't be 'managing' anything. If it's a penalty, it's a penalty."

Read into that "what's a penalty in the first minute is now a penalty in the last minute."

The rules were always written that way, but the standard of enforcement varied. The leagues themselves didn't want the games refereed by the letter of the law and the officials knew that.

"It was always accepted that a hooking penalty was not going to be called unless somebody was pulled down," Reid said.

Now, so much as slightly impede an opponent with your stick and you're going to the penalty box -- as the Knights' Adam Perry learned 1:45 into last night's game.

"You have to allow the skilled player to play," Reid said, confessing to hold some sympathies for the Knights' Corey Perry last season.

"I know he did a lot of complaining to the officials (about the clutching and grabbing), but in some respect I had to agree with him. The things that were done to him last year (without a penalty call) are a penalty this year."

The NHL has prepared an eight-minute video on the new standard, narrated by the league's new vice-president of officiating, retired referee Stephen Walkom.

It's available for viewing on NHL.com and provides quite the eye-opener as to what is acceptable and what isn't.

The new standard takes the game back to the basics, where the stick is used for two things -- passing and shooting. Anything else, and it's a penalty.

The new standard rewards quickness and intelligence and Reid said as much as it will mean more penalties, the officials welcome the direction because for once, besides the colour of their jerseys, the rules are black and white.

There are no grey areas. Nothing is being left to discretion or interpretation.

Players, coaches and fans have always complained that there is no consistency from one referee to another, and especially under the two-referee system. That will no longer be the case, and the OHL is using two referees for half its regular season games and all playoff games.

Players, coaches and fans will know every game what to expect.

"It's mentally taxing because you have to stay on it for the entire 60 minutes, but I enjoy it," Reid said as he and partner Marty Kirwan whistled 41 penalties last night.

During preseason workshops with referees, one OHL coach-GM said every team will play 68 all-star games.

Soo Greyhounds coach-GM Craig Hartsburg was quick to say it's up to the coaches to teach the players not to blame everything on the officials and to teach them how to skate.

"All coaches have to buy in for it to work," Reid said.

"No one has given us a hard time because it's the exhibitions. We'll have to see next week (when the regular season begins) how it goes."

One thing is certain -- when a player commits a foul he will go to the penalty box.

GAME GLANCE

Knights 5, IceDogs 5

London goals: Adam Perry (2), Rob Drummond, Jamie Vanderveeken and Matt McCready, with 38 seconds left.

Mississauga goals: David Pszenyczny, Drew McAvoy, Jordan Grant, Andrew Marcoux and Michael Swift

Next: The Knights open the regular season Friday at 7:30 p.m. against Saginaw at the John Labatt Centre.


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