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Tailing the Komets

Tomorrow's column

It's a good thing I had a late deadline because I just finished
typing in all the penalties from Saturday night's Komets game. I got my first
blister Saturday night during the game writing them all down, and then added
two more typing them in after Fort Wayne's 8-3 win over Quad City.

Referee Jim Hawthorne called 30 penalties in the game, giving
each team 12 power plays. That seems to be typical of all the games around the
United Hockey League. There may not be any pickle juice left in the world by
the all-star break at this rate.

There also might not be that many UHL fans left. It was obvious
at least 3,000 of the opening-night crowd of 10,058 left Memorial Coliseum very
early Saturday night.

The game really wasn't that entertaining, which is a huge problem
for the league administration, owners, officials and — yes, even them — the

The league is trying to emulate what the National Hockey League
did last year by calling everything in hopes of cleaning up the game and
opening up the offense. Basically any player who gets impeded illegally,
whether they are carrying the puck or not, means a penalty will be called.

It worked marvelously in the NHL, but there are several problems
with the theory in the UHL.

I've always advocated making all the calls in the rule book,
figuring the players would adjust or be out of a job. After all, that's how
they learned the game as kids, right? And, if the referees are not strict, the
players will cheat in whatever way they can.

The NHL players have the talent to make something like that work,
but UHL haven't shown they are disciplined enough mentally and physically to
allow the system to work.

Most of the penalties Saturday night were the result of players
not moving their feet and making lazy plays with their sticks or hands. The
players either aren't getting the message, they don't understand it or they are
ignoring it and expect the officials to let up soon. It's usually clear by the
end of the first period what kind of game an official is going to call, but the
players are not adjusting.

Part of that is because most UHL officials aren't disciplined
enough, either. There's no consistency night to night or period to period. The
Komets have played three games, and they've seen three distinct refereeing
styles, six if you count the three exhibition games.

Imagine how bad Major League Baseball would be if you had six
games with six different strike zones? Oh, right, that was the 1980s.

One night the first player who uses his stick doesn't get called,
but the second one does. There's obvious confusion involved, and the
inconsistency is giving the players excuses.

UHL President Richard Brosal and Vice President of Hockey
Operations Brad Jones have met with each team to tell them they want UHL games
to be called like NHL games. One problem is there isn't anyone at every game
making sure those things are actually being called
that way.

It's critical this season for the UHL to improve its image, and
the easiest way to do that is on the ice. Officials dictate that image in many
ways with how they call a game.

For at least the first month and a half, each game should have a
supervisor of officials present to guide the referees during games and talk to
the coaches, and maybe even talk to the players before games. Sure, that costs
a lot of money, but what's the excuse against it? Do you want the best product
on the ice or not? It's that simple.

The owners better step up and spend money to protect their
product. Either hire supervisors or hire better officials. If the games are to
be called like NHL games, then provide those resources, especially with a
system that is already flawed with only one referee.

It's part of hockey that players get mad about officiating and
fans get angry, but the UHL has to be careful the fans don't get too frustrated
with the games themselves. With the way the sports fan's money is being
stretched, the UHL can't afford to offer poor entertainment, especially at the
start of the season when so many new fans are attracted to the games.

Posted in: Komets


Tue, 10/24/2006 - 7:44am

all it takes is a little money and training and experience. i dont expect a uhl ref to be perfect but he shouldnt also be wet behind the ears. we should have guys with plenty of college and junior experience. guys are there but they probably make more money in college or in juniors. what about it tony, do you have any idea to the different pay levels?

Tony E
Tue, 10/24/2006 - 7:55am

I have an idea of the pay scale but I am not sure it is public information so I am not able to disclose. I can tell you that all of these guys have to have some sort of second job. The pay scale is on par with what D1 college officials make.

Tony E
Tue, 10/24/2006 - 7:58am

As far as training, these guys have all been to camps. Many of them are former players at some competitive level. The fact is, they had to beat out a huge amount of competition to make it to the UHL. My problem is that you don't see "career" minor league umpires. After a number of years you are either in the show or you are weeded out. I believe Hawthorne, Christopher et all are capable officials. I am just a big proponent of turnover at this level so other qualified officials get their chance.