While fans, hockey parents, coaches and players are all screaming, yelling and blasting seemingly all of the officials on the ice, there’s usually one person strategically placed, clandestinely running overwatch from a far. These officiating gurus aren’t there for the money, they are there for every young official and for the betterment of the game itself. Officiating supervisors, officiating coaches, or the National Hockey League level they are called officiating managers.  You can call them anything you want, but they are all running overwatch and have probably experienced and know more than anyone in the entire rink.  

They know the job and the game inside and out.

They watch the game, the officials, the players, the coaches, hell they see everything that happens out there, because they have seen it all when it comes to wearing the stripes and everything that entails.

When the temperature is rising in the game and things are escalating, they are constantly gauging the performance of every official on the ice. They always key in on skating ability, fitness and how young officials follow the play both forwards and backwards. Positioning is obviously part of the skating ability aspect which provides them with the best sight lines to make the call.

Officiating supervisors are also looking for judgement. There’s no doubt two parts to that formula. Are they in the proper position which gives them the best sight lines in the moment and their ability to make the call?

Clearly any young official would need guidance in that area and that’s why “reps” and experience are so important. One can only imagine how any young referee would feel if they make a call and get blasted by a coach, a player or any adult for that matter. That’s no doubt why there’s a massive shortage for officials across the hockey world.

Officiating supervisors and schedulers do an amazing job pairing seasoned veterans with young up and comers. Those on and off ice tutorials are truly invaluable. It’s a total team effort when the “forgotten team” on the ice are involved.

The best officiating supervisors are similar to the best coaches in the game. They provide feedback as soon as the period or game is over. It’s instantaneous, it’s concise and they seemingly guide the officials through the scenarios that occurred providing advice, support and experience along the way.

As previously mentioned, rule knowledge is also a key factor in accessing and providing support to young officials. The officiating supervisor wants to make sure that every young official obviously knows the rules but knows how to apply them properly. Another key evaluation tool used by these mentors of game is observing officials’ communication skills.

Overwatch personnel want to see how he/she or any official for that matter interacts with players and coaches, they want to look for how they react after the whistle in scrums, plays along the boards, in front of the net which definitely helps prevent calls. When the players don’t listen then react, that’s where the officiating managers look for their students to read and react reading play and reacting to play. This is where “the feel for the game” becomes so important and where young officials have to control of those types of game from start to finish. The officiating supervisor is always there to provide feedback in those scenarios.

For linepersons, all of the above also apply, for them it’s all about between whistles and after whistles. There’s so much going on that the “normal” hockey fan, hockey parent, coach and player don’t see. Lineperson have so much to process and can really prevent tons of minor incidents that can lead to major events in the run of any game. The communication factor for them is on delayed offside calls and close plays at the blueline. How they work the line for best sightlines inside the line sometimes outside the line sometimes coming off the boards for close plays on far side of the ice, plus faceoff standards are all “lookfors” by the officiating supervisors.

Those that run overwatch innately know what’s going through the minds of the officials. Good, bad or ugly, the supervisor is always there evaluating, assessing while providing constructive feedback, guidance and most importantly support.

The term overwatch has several connotations, but the one that stands out the most is “to guard.”

You see supervisors aren’t running point on the ice, they can’t be out there when the temperature is rising, and things are or have the potential to get out of hand. They have already experienced that firsthand probably thousands of times. The best supervisors run overwatch by protecting the next crop of officials, but also guarding the integrity of the game at the same time. Refereeing supervisors are the quintessential mentor and teacher.

They are always there to provide support, invaluable advice or to provide a swift kick in the ass when needed. All of those things happen behind closed doors in the Ref’s room, but do they ever make a difference and leave a lasting impression One would think the fans, coaches, hockey parents and players are ruthless, a supervisor’s criticism probably hits closer to home than anyone of those others combined.  It’s not easy being an official and knowing all eyes are on you, especially those running overwatch. Refs are constantly under the  microscope, mistakes made by the stripes aren’t necessarily subtle, always scrutinized in public forum.  Even when the referee is right, everyone in the entire rink might question their call either way. That’s where the supervisor steps up and provides support a tap on the back, much needed praise or sound constructive advice.

Experience is everything when it comes to wearing the stripes. So many young officials are just getting their start in the game and finding their way, but many of them get pushed away because of all the scrutiny and abuse they face every time they lace them up.

Game management, skating ability, rule knowledge and positioning are critical if there’s any hope for an officials upward mobility or longevity in the game. Those running overwatch are there to help in every facet of the game.

The refereeing fraternity is arguably the closest in the game of hockey. Everyone wants to help their fellow official find success and get to the highest level, but more importantly they want the game to be in a better place as well.

Officials and the supervisors that watch over them are truly the guardians of our great game.

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