Jackson Heinzelman (Left) and Justin Salmons do their best to ensure a game of hockey is played fairly and smoothly. Ronan O’Doherty photos

Young referees learn conflict management early

Tough gig enjoyed by those who do it for the love of the game

Who among us loyal ice hockey fans has never hurled unsavoury phrases at a referee?

Let’s be honest, we all have.

That being said, the wearers of the black-and-white play a crucial role in keeping the flow of the game going and ensuring no one is beaten to a pulp by a storm of sticks or drop-kicked with a particularly sharp pair of skates.

As a result, we owe them some gratitude and a touch of respect.

The best in the business start young. Developing proficiency at calling one of the fastest sports in the world takes hundreds of hours on the ice.

Jackson Heinzelman, 12, decided to take up the practice this year.

“It’s just another thing to do instead of just staying home,” he says. “I really like hockey and it’s fun getting the extra ice time.”

The young linesman says the job has helped improve his skating quite a bit and as a rookie, he is learning a lot every time he goes out to the rink.

“I’m working on seeing more of the ice,” he says. “I’m trying to envision the whole play, because sometimes I miss players going offside.”

Heinzelman’s partner during a recent Peewee tournament was Justin Salmons, a 16-year-old with a little more experience.

Having been a lineman/ref for a a little over two years, he has seen many sticky situations.

“Coaches getting mad, players getting mad, fans getting mad,” he says, when asked who he has dealt with over his career so far.

One situation comes to mind where he had to draw the line.

“When I was reffing a Peewee Rep game, I gave a penalty with eight seconds left that helped Quesnel win, which the other coach thought was pretty unfair.

“But it was a clear penalty.

“I was getting yelled at, so I had to tell the coach to settle down.”

Like any role where a responsibility for fairness exists, some oversight must be present.

Rachel Robilliard works with B.C. Hockey as a minor hockey mentor for new referees.

She sees them having to deal with situations many of their peers wouldn’t.

“Some of these kids are 13 years old and having an adult yell at them,” she says. “I’ve had to step in a few times in Prince George and talk to parents, but for the most part I like to try and get the young kids to deal with it properly.”

They are encouraged to go through all the processes they are taught.

1) Ask the belligerent party politely to stop;

2) Warn them their behaviour will no longer be tolerated; and when that fails,

3) Ask them to leave.

“There’s some times when you have to teach them a bit about comic relief too, they have to learn to take everything with a grain of salt because sometimes parents can get a little crazy.”

When Robilliard observes a game, she will make notes of the strengths and areas for improvements of the new refs and linesmen.

“I like to make a little compliment sandwich for them,” she says. “I point out two things that they’re doing really well and one or two things they they have to work on for next time.”

For refs, Robilliard says, she might speak to them about positioning and how to best manage the game, while for linesmen, she will stress communication with their partners and the fundamentals of off-sides and icing.

“It’s hard to get them to reach that point, but my main goal is to make sure they still have the confidence to get out there and ref again next week.”

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BC Hockey’s Rachel Robilliard watches the new refs and linesmen and then offers tips and tricks to help them improve.

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