SUN Hockey Pool

Watching from up high

LANCE HORNBY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:33 PM ET

The day might come when your rinkside seat at an NHL game means sharing space with a guy in a loud zebra suit, orange armband and black helmet, yelling from over top of the glass.

A trial with a dryland-based referee was held Thursday at the MasterCard Centre during game action of the league’s research and development camp, with the second ref placed atop a platform near the penalty bench. He was Ontario Hockey League referee Scott Ferguson, who was to scan the ice for anything skating partner Dave Lewis might have missed in the high-energy game between 2011 draft prospects.

After a 15-minute first period where there was nothing judged amiss, Ferguson called high-sticking from his tower and a total of six minors were issued between the two officials for the balance of the 30-minute stop-time contest.

“It was kind of like the fans’ aspect of the game,” Ferguson said afterward. “It took me a period to get used to it from being on the ice and seeing the different angles. When (Lewis) is at the net, I can see what’s going on behind him. I can watch the changes on the bench for too many men.

“But you don’t feel the game, the intensity starting to rise. That’s the tough part.

It was tough seeing up to the far end of the ice, but for the most part, you could see very well. It was just a hard time to react, but after the first period, I got used to it. I would say: ‘Put your hand up, No. 7 on Black, hook’ and (Lewis) would call it. It worked out well.”

The league wanted to see if taking one body off of the

200- by 85-foot ice surface made a difference to traffic flow and of course, to the calibre of officiating. Some logistical problems were obvious, with the platform unable to be put right at centre because of the timekeeper’s bench. And as coach Ken Hitchcock quipped, which team’s business office is going to want to sacrifice about $1,000 worth of prime seats every night so the ref can set up shop, never mind any obstructed view from behind.

As for the placement of a second ref, Hitchcock tried to keep an open mind, as this is the idea of the camp.

“It’s like Big Brother watching you,” he said. “When you’re up that high, the game is slower. But the players mentally are more careful.

“When you have a guy that’s able to observe from that position, if you’re talking about cleaning up stuff behind the play, you won’t get away with anything with that guy standing there.”

Both Hitchcock and Washington Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau, who was in attendance, joked putting a ref out of the line of fire would infringe on their tradition of arguing with the referee.

“He can’t hear you from there and you couldn’t get in his grill,” Boudreau said.

“You wouldn’t know who to yell at, you’d just shift the blame (to the other ref),” added Hitchcock. “The guy is 85 feet away. You’re not going to start barking at him or him at you. It would be like two guys yelling over the fence.”

Ferguson and Lewis were not given any wireless devices to stay in touch with each other during the game, which would obviously be added if this idea ever gets to the next stage in a few years.

“I knew he was there, he was communicating with me the entire time,” Lewis said. “Even when there wasn’t a penalty, when a guy was coming out of the box or something was on in front of the net, he was shouting: ‘Good battle’ (thus no penalty).

“There were five or six penalties called, generally all the same, but there were a few off the puck called from behind the play. (Ferguson) had that while I was watching the action.“


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