Make-Up Calls: Two Wrongs Don't Make a Right

Hockey is a human game. No one wants to fail, and it can be an internal mental struggle to avoid dwelling on a mistake. A missed call can cause an official to lose his poise. He is more focused on what already happened than what's going on now.
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As with all referees and officiating supervisors who have ever worked in this game, I have grown all-too-familiar over the years with the following scenario: A controversial call goes against Team A. Perhaps it was the right call, perhaps not. Shortly thereafter, there is another disputed call. This one goes in favor of Team A. Maybe it was the right call, maybe it wasn't.

Either which way, there is a Pavlovian response from Team B: "Make-up call!"

I'm not going to deny that some officials feel compelled at times to try to "even things out." However, it does not happen nearly as often or as automatically as many people seem to think.

There are a lot of things that happen on the ice that people in the stands and watching on television are not privy to see or hear. For instance, there were many times in my career where I'd cut a player a break on a borderline penalty with a warning that the next time he did it, he was going to sit. If he ignored the warning, I was true to my word. He sat.

Now let's say he did it again shortly into a power play for his team. Immediately, the player's coach and the home-team announcers would holler about it being an even-up call. They'd be wrong. I'd have made the same call regardless.

OK, so what about situations where the official knows he made a mistake on the initial call? You've seen "countless make-up calls" shortly thereafter, right? Not really.

Hockey is a human game. No one wants to fail, and it can be an internal mental struggle to avoid dwelling on a mistake. A missed call can cause an official to lose his poise. He is more focused on what already happened than what's going on now. His positioning may drift. His adrenaline is pumping a little too high. The situation is ripe for another error.

Psychologically, it's not all that different from from what happens when a goalie who started out the game well starts pressing after allowing a goal he wishes he had back. He second-guesses himself and one mistake can rapidly snowball into two or three before he knows what hit him.

This is an especially common pitfall for young officials, but even veterans can fall prey to it if they let down their guard. Maybe you can't perceive it from the stands, bench or in front of your TV set but a good supervisor can virtually see the wheels turning in the on-ice official's head. I can spot all the telltale signs from subtle body language cues that proceed the official's on-ice actions that follow. From afar, I'm hoping I'm wrong and silently rooting for the official on the ice to pull it together quickly with the help of his teammates.

That's what I mean when I say that I live and die a thousand deaths watching officials from afar. I know what's going on and what they're going through, but I am powerless to change it on the spot when I see an official get rattled by a marginal or missed call. All I can do is be honest in my feedback afterwards.

Key point: If an official wants to build acceptability among players and coaches, admit to a mistake. If I knew I missed a call, I owned up to it. I'd say, "Well, that probably wasn't my best call." Then I would try my hardest to get the next call right. Usually, I would.

I did NOT give make-up calls by design when I was an active referee and I still don't believe in them now. My parents always taught me that two wrongs don't make a right. This principle applies to sports officiating as well as to life.

Sometimes, if I was having a particularly rough night -- and we all have a few over the course of the long season -- there might be another borderline call I later wished I had back. However, I never once set out to retroactively "fix" an error by making a call that I knew was wrong even as I watched the play. That goes against my nature.

It takes an incredible amount of mental toughness to do this job. Giving an outright make-up call -- I know one when I see it, too, because I am studying the officials and all of their interactions throughout the entire game -- is a cop out. It's the lazy way of trying to get out of a jam, and it does a disservice to the game.

Mistakes happen. Man up and move on.

Finally, by all means, keep on skating, keep on hustling and (yes, I will say it again and again) get to the net! People will forgive and forget the marginal hook or interference at center ice. The missed call around the net is the one that lingers long after the final buzzer.


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 Eastern College Athletic Conference (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.

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