The men and women in stripes have long been scrutinized on the ice at hockey rinks across Canada.
At every level of the game, from tyke to the pros, they have typically faced an unnecessary amount of vocal criticism.
In the past, it rarely escalated beyond some unhappy complaints in the lobby, or the odd booing at the higher levels, where the fans pay to watch the game and coaches are trying to hang onto their jobs.
Violence toward officials was rare. Even when verbal abuse existed, which it long has around rinks, where tensions among fans often run high, it was uncommon.
Last weekend in Lethbridge, an official was slashed by a player in a three-on-three tournament, and then pursued and attacked by two parents on the ice.
Charges were laid in the incident, but the reverberations within the hockey community have been felt at all levels, and they were starting to ripple even before then.
This just happened in #Lethbridge tonight. From what I’ve been told it was a 10 year old 3 on 3 tournament where a player slashed a ref. My source tells me the ref responded in a physical way (some are saying self defence) & this happened. Reaching out to organizer for more info pic.twitter.com/mlsZs8nNuE
— Dean Millard (@DuckMillard) September 9, 2019
Red Deer Minor Hockey commission GM Dallas Gaume, a former professional hockey player himself, said he’s heard and noticed more frequent disrespect for officials over the past several years.
“There does seem to be a little bit of an increase in the lack of respect shown towards officials, and we’re trying to get ahead of it a bit,” he said.
For longtime official Cody Huseby, the problem has simply never gotten better. He’s been an official at every level for almost two decades and now serves as the Officials Committee Coordinator for the North Central Region.
Huseby is a WHL linesman and also a coach, so he has a unique perspective of how respect is a two-way street for everyone involved.
“In talking at the provincial level, it’s definitely something where we’ve never said it’s getting better. Maybe it’s staying the same or getting worse. It’s definitely not getting better and it’s unfortunate,” Huseby said.
“Hockey Alberta and Hockey Canada do have things in place. They have a pretty good respect-in-sport program laid out. They have taken good steps. I think further steps need to be taken.
“A lot of the times, I’d like to see a little bit more accountability from the minor hockey organizations.”
He said in the training of young officials, there is no sugarcoating the fact that they will face scrutiny in the high-paced and tense environment that is hockey in Canada.
But there is a way that it needs to be dealt with, and while it can be difficult, he said they are doing everything they can to have a strong support system in place for officials.
“In our clinics, we’re always trying to preach treat disrespect with respect. That’s what we tell our young guys and senior officials.
“We’re pretty honest in the clinics. They’ve been around the game. They’ve witnessed some good things. They’ve also witnessed some bad things,” he said.
“We’re not trying to hide. We’re pretty honest upfront. We let them know what to expect and then we try and treat it as positively as we can and really try and encourage them to treat that disrespect with respect.”
While the officials committee is trying to assist their community, Huseby said there should be more onus on hockey organizations to help educate coaches and parents about how to treat officials.
Beyond the respect-in-sport program required by coaches from Hockey Alberta, there isn’t a lot done to help bridge the gap of respect between officials and the rest of the hockey community, he said.
In an attempt to help players, coaches and parents understand the impact disrespect has on the game, Red Deer Minor Hockey is trying to snuff the problem out.
This season, they’ll bring in Bob Wilkie, founder of I Got Mind Inc. Wilkie travels around the country educating athletes about mental health.
Gaume said coaches will also be invited to participate, and he hopes some of the education will be about respect on the ice.
“We’re bringing him in to try and get a little bit ahead of this. We don’t want this happening in our community,” said the GM, adding that they’ve been working on what to do about respect in the rink for over a year.
“A lot of his presentations focus on the mental well-being of the players. How to deal with anxiety and stress. There’s also another side, and it’s about respect.
“As far as a coach, how do you deal properly with players? And then how to treat officials. It’s all part of his presentation.
“It’s really an education thing that we want to educate our players, coaches and parents on what is acceptable and what isn’t.”