Successful NHL Officiating: 5 Keys for Refs, 5 Keys for Linesmen

Over the years, many aspiring hockey officials have asked me what I think the biggest keys are to being an effective referee or linesman. It is a subject that I have given constant thought to over the years, and I frequently discuss many of the key elements.
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Over the years, many aspiring hockey officials have asked me what I think the biggest keys are to being an effective referee or linesman. It is a subject that I have given constant thought to over the years, and I frequently discuss in my blogs many of the key elements -- teamwork, communication, accountability, acceptability, positioning and hustle -- that are crucial to success.

In the most recent edition of the "Whistle Stoppers" newsletter that I distribute to the officials I supervise in the ECAC, I compiled a list of five tips apiece that referees and linesmen should put into practice throughout the season. There is nothing revolutionary about any of these tips, but they are handy reminders of fundamentals that any on-ice official in any league can refer to as needed. I'm a big believer in officials doing self-critiques.

It is my pleasure to share these tips today with my readers.


1. Get to the net!!!! That is where the money is. Work tight to the net by skating to open space and boomeranging the net.

2. Hustle out of the zone; when the players are moving up keep your feet moving. You will be able to make better determinations from 50 feet rather than 100 feet away from the play.

3. Know the rules, when you are in the bathroom or have some free time refresh your knowledge, there is NO excuse for not knowing options on a penalty or the rules.

4. Communication with players and coaches is essential at this time of the year and those few extra seconds will make a huge difference when you can clarify or answer the pressing question. Use your judgment as how long you should stay, the goal is to get the puck down.

5. There is no prize for putting your arm up for a penalty the fastest, watch the play, judge the play, make a decision and if it is a penalty put up your arm. When considering a penalty, ask yourself:

* Did someone gain an advantage?
* Was the play dangerous?
* Did someone lose a scoring opportunity?
* What was the effect?


1. Icing rulings can easily turn into problematic calls so here are a half-dozen pointers:

* A puck off the ice or bouncing will be icing if all of the other conditions are met, the defensive player is not expected to be able to play that puck.

* Make the decision when the puck is at the top of the circle if the player has been skating or not and then live with the decision. Do NOT wave off a puck a foot or two before the goal line because a defenseman "may" have held up.

* Remember if a player can't get to a puck before it crosses the goal line then it is icing.

* In a foot race, if the puck in your judgment will cross the goal line when the players get to the dot, it is icing if the defensive player wins the race.

* When the puck is on the ice, defensive players are expected to make a reasonable effort to play the puck, if this condition is met then it is icing.

* The back linesman is responsible for watching the players coming off the bench. Initiate icing and take inventory of the players on the ice. Stay with the bench and make sure the right players are on the ice. The referees will help but this is your responsibility.

2. For offside calls, judge the players crossing the blue line, see where the puck and players are and make a decisive ruling. Don't guess or anticipate where you thought the player "was going to be" on the place.

3. Establish the faceoff standards early and keep them throughout the game. I never like to see a center thrown out for the first time late in the third period on a defensive zone faceoff.

4. Establish a presence after the whistle and calm players and volatile situations.

5. Go with a referee to the bench when a conversation is taking place between the coach and referee. You are there to observe, not offer opinions.

When multiple officials start talking at once around the bench, it is a time-waster at best and a potential detriment to the officiating team. The risk of confusion, contradiction and/or sparking a downward spiraling argument increases substantially.

Final thoughts: Hockey in an emotional sport. Referees and linesmen alike should also have an ability to "take the temperature" of the game. Officials must play a key role as a calming influence rather than throwing fuel on the fire.

This was an element of the officiating art that took time for myself to learn during my active refereeing career. Some are naturally better at this aspect than others, but it is something that all officials need be mindful of and strive for continual improvement.


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.

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