Common Sense Officiating: Thomas Paine Would Spin in His Grave

Washington Capitals center Jay Beagle (83) defends as Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson (4), from Sweden, clea
Washington Capitals center Jay Beagle (83) defends as Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson (4), from Sweden, clears the puck in the third period of the Winter Classic outdoor NHL hockey game at Nationals Park, Thursday, Jan. 1, 2015, in Washington. The Capitals won 3-2. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Happy new year to all Huffington Post readers. May the new year bring you good health and success. In the realms of hockey and life, I wish everyone could make a resolution to let common sense be their guide.

Common sense is an unwritten element of officiating the sport of hockey as well as playing and coaching the game. Alas, Thomas Paine would spin in his grave. Common sense is, in fact, not all that common in most facets of our game. Just because the letter of the rule book is either inflexible or vague does NOT always mean that "going by the book" is the correct handling of a situation.

This is not an NHL issue. It's something that goes on in every league around the world, and is not even just a hockey or sports issue. Officials are paid to use their judgment as well as to enforce the rule book.

So long as a concerted effort is made to arrive at the right call in a situation, I will always support an official who shows the moxie to make a gutsy but unpopular call at a pivotal moment of a game. However, the "by-the-book" call is NOT always the right one. It takes feel for the game and a dose of common sense.

For example, in the recent Spengler Cup semifinal game between Team Canada and Geneva, there was a pivotal call made that may -- or may not -- have been correct under the letter of the rule book. However, common sense suggested that no call be made in that instance.

Here's what happened: In the final half-minute or so of the third period of a 6-5 game led by Geneva, there was a faceoff in the Geneva zone. Team Canada had its goaltender pulled for an extra attacker. Before the puck was even dropped, a too-many-men on the ice penalty was called against Canada. Somehow, the team had seven skaters on the ice instead of six.

As a result of the penalty, the faceoff was moved to the opposite end of the ice and Canada had to put its goalie back in the net with a 5-on-4 manpower disadvantage until (or if) an opportunity arose to get the goaltender on the bench again to make it 5-on-5.

First of all, I do not understand why Canada was allowed to have seven players on the ice during the allotted line-change time before the referee raised his arm to cut off any further changes. Officials routinely make a quick count of the personnel and it is hardly uncommon for there to be a bit of confusion by the players or bench and for the official to calmly but clearly tell the team it better hurry up and get the right number of players on the ice.

Secondly, there is a common-sense issue. What was the INTENT of the team that has too many players on the ice. Is it trying to stall for time? Is it trying to pull the wool over the officials' eyes by sneaking someone out for a belated change after line changes have been cut off?

Under the rule book, the referee may have been within his rights to call a bench minor on Canada IF there had been a previous infraction in the game. It's possible -- and I don't know because I did not see the entire game -- that the Canada bench had previously been warned.

Even so, this is a situation where some restraint needs to be shown. If I were supervising the game, my message would be to apply some common sense and feel for the game in that situation. If I had been on the ice, in a one-goal game in the final minute, I would have ordered the Canadians to get their extra guy the hell off the ice pronto and then to have the puck dropped before they DID incur a penalty.


Paul Stewart holds the distinction of being the first U.S.-born citizen to make it to the NHL as both a player and referee. On March 15, 2003, he became the first American-born referee to officiate in 1,000 NHL games.

Today, Stewart is an officiating and league discipline consultant for the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) and serves as director of hockey officiating for the ECAC.

The longtime referee heads Officiating by Stewart, a consulting, training and evaluation service for officials. Stewart also maintains a busy schedule as a public speaker, fund raiser and master-of-ceremonies for a host of private, corporate and public events. As a non-hockey venture, he is the owner of Lest We Forget.

Stewart's writings can also be found on every Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. He is currently working with a co-author in writing an autobiography.