Thursday, February 11, 2016

Official Business

Over the weekend in New Jersey, two referees were assaulted by parents following a high school game, and both ended up in the hospital.

The bottom line: don't ever make it personal with the officials. They're doing their best. If there's a systemic problem, it's not their fault (hi, Stewie!). You've really got to love the game to be an official, because you're not noticed when you are doing everything right, and you catch an awful lot of flak when you're doing anything wrong. We've had well documented problems with the officiating in our league and there are a handful of guys we cringe to see suiting up for an RPI game - but be very clear. We have never and will never advocate outright abuse, especially confrontational abuse.

It's just a game. Don't ever forget that. And there's a human being - imperfect, just like you - wearing those stripes.

We asked Dave Aiello, friend of WaP and friend of RPI hockey, who is an official in New Jersey himself, to comment. Here is what he said.

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Some of you may know me as an RPI alumnus who graduated in 1989.  I’ve come back and played in several men’s hockey alumni games, including this season, and I have a tendency to be very supportive of Rensselaer on social media.

I'm also an ice hockey official, and really got started on a path toward high-level officiating at Mike Addesa’s suggestion when I was a sophomore at RPI.  Since then, I’ve officiated hundreds of hockey games at all levels below Division I, both as a referee and a linesman.

Dave Brown, an official I’ve known for 30 years, was assaulted by spectators at a High School varsity hockey game on Sunday, February 7 in Howell, New Jersey.  Two men, who are reportedly fathers of student-athletes who played in the game, took their protest directly into the officials’ locker room afterward. These spectators repeatedly struck Dave Brown and his partner, causing both officials to leave the arena in ambulances.  Thankfully, neither Dave nor his partner were seriously hurt.

I’m telling you this because Dave Brown is also an ECAC Division I linesman who has worked many RPI games.  Whether you recognize him by name or not, you’ve seen him work.  He is one of the best American hockey officials at any level.  He's a good man who you would like, if you knew him the way I do.

I know from watching RPI games and reading what reporters and fans say on-line, that many of you dislike several of the officials that the ECAC Hockey League chooses for its staff.  You may not know Dave Brown in the same way that you think you know the referees who make penalty calls.  All of the officials on the ECAC staff are great officials who do the best job they can every night that they go on the ice.

I hear the referees and linesmen being second-guessed on almost every tough play that results in a whistle.  Perhaps that goes with the territory.  But when a decisive call goes against RPI, there is noticeable use of abusive language by fans in the stands, whether the officials made the correct call or not.

At Houston Field House, no official will get anything other than verbally abused from a distance, because it’s almost impossible to get near them.  The Field House staff is one of the best in college hockey.  But when officials go to almost any other rink-- not just in Division I but at every level of hockey down to Frear Park and Knickerbacker Arena-- the men and women who officiate are much easier to get close to and, amazingly, to physically attack.

I didn’t take this issue as seriously as I do now until a great official that I know personally was assaulted.  My wife and kids know Dave, and what happened to him makes them scared about what might happen to me when I go to officiate my next game.  It will take a long time for our fears to go away, regardless of what happens in the future.

So when the whistle blows and the thought crosses your mind-- that official is an idiot-- or worse, stop yourself.  Remember what just happened to one of the best officials in the ECAC.  Control your emotions, the way all players, coaches, and officials must control theirs.

How you act as a spectator at a Division I hockey game influences what is considered acceptable behavior at lower levels of hockey.

Abuse of officials has no place in our game, at RPI or at any other level.

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