Why Hockey is the Hardest Sport to Officiate

by The Cowl Editor on November 16, 2017


By Jeremy Perrigo ’18

Sports Staff

NHL referee stops fight
Photo Courtesy of Kenneth Scott

   Hockey has traditionally, and somewhat sarcastically, been called “the fastest game on ice.” While none of the other three major American sports (football, baseball, and basketball) take place on the same type of playing field, hockey still may be considered the fastest of the four, making it an incredibly difficult game to officiate.

  Over the last several years, the National Hockey League (NHL), has implemented various changes to its rulebook in order to make more accurate calls and to protect its players from dangerous hits. The addition of video review has created controversy in many sports, and hockey is no exception. Just before the 2015-16 season, the league agreed to implement a coach’s challenge specifically related to goaltender interference and offside calls resulting in goals.

  This was deemed necessary because despite how sharp NHL linesmen and referees are. The sheer speed of the game, along with its ability to be played continuously without regular stoppages, makes it extremely difficult to officiate. During a professional game there are two referees who are responsible for calling penalties, and two linesmen who are responsible for calling line infractions, such as offsides and icing.

  Even though there are two officials assigned to each category, there have been various instances within NHL games where wrong calls have been made on the ice that ultimately have had an impact on the outcome of the game. Video review is an attempt to assist officials, who work in collaboration with Hockey Operations in Toronto, to make the most accurate call possible.

This factor, along with restricting the amount of legal checks and altering how players are allowed to use their stick to impede an opposing player, makes hockey an extremely complex game to officiate.