As teams have a handful of games under their belt, it’s important to remember why we are all at the rink and who makes the sport possible for thousands of teams and players. Without our on-ice officials we can’t play games - across the province, the number of those who are officiating games this year has decreased since 2019-2020, the last season before COVID.
We often forget that hockey is just a game. A game played by thousands of kids across Ontario. Playing the game they have grown up to love since they could strap on a pair of skates. They play the game with heart, passion, desire and most importantly, for fun.
But what happens when the most important attribute, fun, gets displaced by winning at all costs? Oftentimes, players, coaches and parents take our great game in the wrong direction. When the game on the ice gets too competitive and the intensity gets raised, the first people to feel the brunt of that excitement are usually the referees.
Whether it is U9 house league or U15 AAA, many officials feel they are being treated in a manner that is completely unacceptable. If we continue as a hockey community to head down this dangerous path, we will be left with many of our young, dreaming hockey players without a place to play as there will be no officials there to referee those games.
These are your neighbours, teachers and members of the community who the game wouldn’t happen without. They officiate for a number of reasons, but the thread of a passion for the sport runs through all of those in the stripes.
A lot of player or coach behaviour in minor hockey can be attributed to what they see on Saturday nights. Do officials make mistakes? Absolutely. It is not the mistakes that define us as players, coaches or referees, but how we respond to these situations. At the end of the night the horn sounds and each and every one of us goes home to our families, forgetting about this game and looking ahead to the next. Just like our players and coaches may make a wrong decision that could impact the game, a referee may also miss a call.
Kids and players watch their parents and coaches and follow their example. Just as we got through the last season together, we need to remember that we are all teammates when it comes to all participants enjoying the game.
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