Walkom is set to sock 'em

LANCE HORNBY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:23 AM ET

The D'Amico Cup is the only North American hockey championship where the winners are the referees and linesmen.

It wraps up today in Fort Erie, ending the week-long training camp for almost 70 National Hockey League on-ice officials, who used sticks and gloves half the time and striped shirts and whistles for the duration as they tested all the new rules from both angles.

"We officiated our own games, so we can get in the right mind-set (when exhibition games start tomorrow)," new NHL director of officiating Stephen Walkom said yesterday on a conference call. "We hope the learning curve for players and coaches is accelerated, but it's the officiating culture that has to change, too."

Walkom tried to allay fears that the pre-season schedule will become mired in confusion about new rules and obstruction standards and result in a parade to the penalty box.

"Throughout the exhibition, our referees will be open and available (before games, between periods and afterward) to any team," Walkom said. "We're not looking at calling a quota of penalties. Fans are just going to be looking for results in the (on-ice) product itself.

"Players and coaches will understand the cultural change, but it doesn't mean they'll like it. Let's be realistic, they'll (stretch the rules) as part of trying to win a game."

Walkom will open the season with 33 referees and 34 linesmen (slightly fewer linesmen than in 2003-04), plus 10 part-time officials from the AHL.

Referee Terry Gregson retired after 2003-04, while Stephane Provost died in a motorcycle accident in April.

Linesmen Ray Scapinello, Randy Mitton, Dan McCourt and Kevin Collins all retired, Scapinello to become an OHL officiating supervisor. Promoted to full-time work are referees Wes McCauley and Dan O'Rourke. McCauley's father, John, was a famous NHL ref who once held Walkom's post. New linesmen include Angelo D'Amico and David Brisebois.

The Fort Erie tournament was named in honour of Angelo's father, John D'Amico, a longtime NHL linesman and supervisor, who died of leukemia and bone cancer in the spring at age 67.

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THE DEAL WITH... STEPHEN WALKOM

- On the lockout year: "We went through a lot. We're proud we didn't take work anywhere else, but the lockout was moot compared to the tragic loss of (ref) Stephane Prevost (in a motorcycle accident)."

- On why he took the job as officiating boss: "I knew our group was fractured and beaten down. I thought 'where can I serve the game best?' "

- On potential abuse from coaches this year: "It's important to separate their emotion from abuse."


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