It’s a new National Hockey League season and there’s a fresh crop of zebras, as the transformation of the NHL’s officiating department continues.
There was a time not long ago when an NHL official had a job for life, once he got inside the ropes. But as the speed of the game has increased, the life expectancy of an NHL referee has gone in the other direction. Now, with officiating combines and an international search underway for the best from all the hockey playing countries, donning the stripes in an NHL game isn’t nearly as easy as it once may have been.
“It’s forced us to find officials with a skating skill-set that is necessary to keep up to today’s game,” the NHL’s director of officiating Stephen Walkom said from Buffalo, N.Y., where the annual NHL officials training camp is taking place. “You have to be a great skater on both edges. Transition forwards to backwards. Move in, out and all around with the speed of the game.
“We’re looking for athletes,” he said. “The days of not being athletic as a referee are long gone.”
And if that athlete comes from a little town outside Moscow called Tver — the same place that gave us Ilya Kovalchuk — all the better. Russian referee Evgeny Romasko has been hired on as a full-timer, but will still split games between the American Hockey League and NHL this season, having passed the test during five NHL assignments last season.
“Evgeny is the first Russian referee we’ve ever had in the NHL,” Walkom said of the 33-year-old former KHL referee. “The NHL just wants the best officials in the world, and unfortunately many of the countries who have players don’t have accelerated development programs to get officials to the highest level. So, by the time they get their opportunity, they’ve only got a few years left.
“Evgeny isn’t here because he’s Russian. He’s here because he’s an exceptional official. English is the official language of the NHL, but it can’t hurt to have a second language (on the ice).”
Romasko has settled in Hershey, Pa., the home of recently retired referee Paul Devorski, who has volunteered to help acclimate the young referee to North American life.
Romasko may be the face of the changing landscape, but today it is an entirely new recruit who joins the ranks of the NHL Officials Association compared to only a few years ago.
Almost all of this season’s hires are former junior, university or pro players, many of who were recruited through a visit to their club’s dressing room by Walkom or a colleague.
• Referee Jake Brenk was a fifth round pick of the Edmonton Oilers in 2001, chosen ahead of players like goalie Mike Smith, winger Brooks Laich and defencemen Dennis Seidenberg and Marek Zidlicky. “He too is a phenomenal skater,” Walkom said of Brenk, who never made it past the ECHL after a career at Minnesota State University — Mankato.
• Linesman Garrett Rank worked first NHL game last January and also worked the Calder Cup finals, a product of the University of Waterloo Warriors. He is also ranked 237th in the World Amateur Golf Rankings and tied for 148th spot this summer at the RBC Canadian Open.
• Linesman Brandon Gawrylitz played at the University of Alaska and for the Trail Smoke Eaters of the BCJHL. Six-foot-four linesman Ryan Gibbons was drafted by the Phoenix Coyotes in Rd. 6 after a long WHL career. His playing career stalled in the ECHL, but Gibbons found his calling as a linesman through one of the NHL combines.
“We started this combine two years ago. It’s who we’re hiring now,” said Walkom, who also listed Joey Mullen’s son Matt as an up and coming prospect. “Three, four years down the road we’ll have more highly qualified guys than we have jobs.”
And that’s the kind of competition that every good team requires.
Before the Stanley Cup playoffs, a list of forty on-ice officials are named to work: Twenty referees and twenty linesmen. They are paired up in each round, traveling and working together between the series. Usually, they are never assigned to work two games between two teams they have already seen. This does not apply if a series reaches seven games, or at any point in time beginning in the third round. If a game seven is reached, those who have been assigned to work in the next round will call the series-deciding game. If at any time a referee or linesman is injured or unable to work, there is a standby official; he is there in the event that one of the officials cannot continue in the game.
Throughout the playoffs, the list of officials is minimized.
- During the second round, twenty-four officials (twelve referees and twelve linesmen) work games.
- During the third round, sixteen officials (eight referees and eight linesmen) work games.
In the Stanley Cup playoffs, the list is reduced to eight officials: Four referees and four linesmen. They are named as Stanley Cup Finals officials. They are still in pairs, who will work every other game (even numbered and odd numbered). If the Stanley Cup final reaches a game seven, the top four will be assigned to officiate the game; they may not have been paired during the finals.
Beginning with the 2002 Stanley Cup finals, the National Hockey League assigned two referees and two linesmen for each game. A total of eight on-ice officials are named: Four referees and four linesmen.
2017 Stanley Cup finals
2016 Stanley Cup finals
2015 Stanley Cup finals
2014 Stanley Cup finals
2013 Stanley Cup finals
2012 Stanley Cup finals
2011 Stanley Cup finals
2010 Stanley Cup finals
2009 Stanley Cup finals
2008 Stanley Cup finals
2007 Stanley Cup finals
2006 Stanley Cup finals
2004 Stanley Cup finals
2003 Stanley Cup finals
2002 Stanley Cup finals
Between the 1999 and 2001 playoff seasons, the National Hockey League implemented a two referee, two linesman system. Five referees and four linesmen were named to work in the finals.
2001 Stanley Cup finals
2000 Stanley Cup finals
1999 Stanley Cup finals
The National Hockey League used a single referee for each playoff game, with a rotation of three referees for the series.
See also: List of NHL on-ice officials and Stanley Cup Finals