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Monday, May 12, 2008

Embracing the Human Element in Officiating

It's just too easy to rip sporting officials sometimes. We've always been taught otherwise, but when you're right your right, and when you're wrong... you're allowing goals to pass through the side of the net.

In yesterdays IIHF World Championship contest between Finland and the US, the latter finagled their way back into the game with a slippery snipe that clearly went through the side of the net. A queer feeling gripped the arena promoting the on-ice ref's to confer the with officials upstairs in hopes their use of video review could indefinitely solve the dilemma. So does the puck go through the side of the net? (Here is the video with added value in form of dirty Finnish commentary).

It could be the work of match-rigging henchmen, pure accidental negligence, or another case of the Newfies in the video review booth getting too ripped to decipher the coded message that you just watched – stranger (alcohol-related) things have happened in Halifax, trust me. Whatever the explanation, the result was an unprecedented blunder which allowed the Finnish squad to squeak out a 3-2 win.

We accept that humans are prone to error because we experience these mishaps daily. We've been in fender benders, mis-pronounced peoples names, or gotten poop on our hands during a rushed, errant wipe. Shit happens, indeed. And lighting can strike twice...

Case in Point. This image was taken during the first period of Game 2, when Sidney Crosby was hacking away at a lose puck at the side of the net. The end-result is clearly displayed – but the humans responsible for the outcome of this event once again made a mistake. Following a lengthy review, the inconclusive visual confirmation took a goal away from the Pittsburgh Penguins.

What is most frustrating is not the mistake itself, but the dogmatic adherence to a rule that offers no flexibility. Sports organizations and the NHL always pride itself on the quality of their officials and support any instances of bad officiating with the classic “we embrace the human element” mantra. Where the hell was the human element lastnight? Watching the replay determines pretty clearly that the puck crossed the goal line, as its momentum continued once Marty Biron smothered it with his glove (obstructing the visual proof of the puck crossing the line). In lieu of making the appropriate assessment, the NHL chose loyalty to a fault and threw the rule book at Michel Therrien and the Pens. No Goal!

Poll coaches, players and general managers on the most important quality of officials and they would overwhelming respond: consistency. Good, bad or otherwise, just be consistent so we (the players) know the guidelines. Embracing the human element whenever possible and these events become easily avoidable.

This unfortunate example caught the league talking out of both sides of their mouth, a phenomena of which the fans have grown tired. Are we in for the human element or not? I support intelligent people passing reasonable judgments – which why if you hire the right people for the job, these problems disappear. This applied to the Zamboni drivers, video review judges and beyond – up to the suits in New York and Mr. Bettman for his lack of confidence in the people who work for him. Pick a philosophy and follow it to the end, just ensure they don't cross paths during another NHL playoff semi-final or World Championship Game.

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