TORONTO – Ray Scapinello and Ron Hoggarth don’t envy the job being done by NHL officials these days.
They have a combined 56 years of experience in the league and believe it is tougher to be a referee or linesman now than it’s ever been. The game is faster, the players are bigger and replay catches every hook, hold or offside call that is missed.
“How would you like to go to work every day with someone looking over your shoulder?” Hoggarth said Sunday before refereeing the Hockey Hall of Fame’s legends game. “It’s difficult, very difficult. The officials are very competent, but that’s the situation that they have.”
There is considerably less pressure on him as he works about 20 games per year involving oldtimers. Hoggarth essentially doubled as the master of ceremonies at Air Canada Centre on Sunday, speaking into a microphone throughout a game that saw Dino Ciccarelli—who goes into the Hockey Hall on Monday—score in the dying seconds to give Canada a 10-10 tie with the U.S.
Hoggarth left the NHL in 1994 after growing tired of the travel. The league looked pretty different at that point than it had when he started 23 years earlier.
“The game is constantly changing because the player is constantly changing,” said Hoggarth. “When I came into the league, I was six feet tall, 220 pounds—I was a big guy. When I left, I was looking up at guys like (Eric) Lindros. The game changed, the physicality of the game changed.
“Everyone on the ice is capable of throwing bodychecks now.”
One of the biggest issues currently facing referees is the enforcement of a new penalty for blindside hits to the head—a rule that players are still adjusting to. A handful of five-minute majors were given out under Rule 48 during the first month of the season.
While the debate continues about what constitutes a legal or illegal hit, Scapinello remains confident the league will eventually be able to weed out a lot of the dangerous plays they’ve targeted.
“It’s going to be awhile, but you’ll see the change,” he said. “I used to be on the ice with the Broad Street Bullies when every time there was whistle you’d look over your shoulder and here came the bench. They put a stop to that. When’s the last time you saw a bench-clearing brawl?”
For him, the onus is on the players to drive the change.
“In days gone by, you used to hit a guy just to separate the puck,” said Scapinello, who spent 33 years as a NHL linesman before retiring in 2004. “Now they hit to hurt. … Even the cleanest check in the world, they’ll try and knock your head off. I don’t know if it’s lack of respect—I really can’t put my finger on what it actually is.
“The whole mindset of players has to change.”
Hoggarth still watches a lot of NHL games on television and believes the referees are also adjusting to the new penalty. A major component of Rule 48 is supplemental discipline, which essentially gives the league’s hockey operations staff an equal role in its enforcement.
As a result, he thinks officials are less likely to call the penalty on the ice.
“I wish they’d give a little more (control) back to the referees,” said Hoggarth. “With the head shots, I’d really like them to say, ‘here it is, you guys call it.’ If it’s wrong, we can change it afterwards.
“I see some hesitancy from the referees to call that.”
Technology continues to change the way the game is called. One of the items that will be on the agenda when the league’s GMs meet Tuesday in Toronto will be a coach’s challenge—a discussion that could eventually lead to coaches being given the power to initiate video replay to determine whether a goaltender was interfered with before a goal was scored.
It’s the sort of thing Hoggarth could never have imagined in his day. He chuckled while recalling an incident in January 1992 that only the fans in the building ever saw.
“Jaromir Jagr took the feet out from underneath me and got suspended (10 games) in Washington one year and there wasn’t even any television,” said Hoggarth. “Now there’d be 47 cameras and endless replays.”
While both he and Scapinello are enjoying their retirement, there are some parts of the job they still long for.
“I’ll always miss being on the ice with the greatest players in the world,” said Scapinello. “How can you not? When I had hair on my head, it would just stand up during the national anthem. I couldn’t wait to get to the rink.”