Sunday, December 07, 2003

Thought it would be interesting to talk to Central Hockey League Supervisor of Officials Wayne Bonney as well as referee Steve Cruickshank, both of whom were taking in the Ice Bats-Thunder game.

So I did:

What do you think the average fan's biggest misconception is about officials?

Bonney: I guess the biggest thing is, maybe they don't think the officials take their job seriously. This is their livelihood. Their job is to do the best job they can, they don't want to make any mistakes, and they really feel bad when they do make mistakes. They want to do a good job.

Steve, where have you been for the last three days, to give people an idea of what a referee's schedule is like?

Cruickshank: My last three games were, last Tuesday I was in Tulsa, Oklahoma, this past Friday was Corpus Christi and Saturday night I was over in Laredo. Tonight I'm just watching and learning from my superior. There's many tools that they use to teach us, and you can learn a lot not only while you're on the ice, but also just sitting beside him watching a game. Consistency throughout all the officials is what he's trying to gun for, and if I may say so he's doing a great job of it.

When you evaluate yourself, are you more likely to say, 'man, I wish I'd been in better position to make that call' or 'ooh, I made a wrong call.'

Cruickshank: It's very ironic you say that, because we just talked about positioning. If you're in the right spot at the right time it makes our job 100% easier. All we want to do is put ourselves in a position to be able to best see every call that we want to make. One of the big ones is not being on the goal line for a goal, or a scramble. We've got to get there, and that's preached to us. Also, coming up around behind the play rather than being lazy and hanging up. It's exactly like you say -- many times we can sit there and go, 'God, I wish I had been here, or there.' We've been told where to be, that's why we've got to get there and learn from that. There's always the human factor, but they provide us with the tools that put us in the right spot.

Bonney: One thing I've learned as a supervisor is, you can defend everything an official calls when he's in the right position. If it's on the replay and the coach says, 'look at this,' I say, well, he's in the right position, he's doing everything right, that's his judgement. He made that decision. Now if he's not in the right position and he makes a mistake it's kind of hard for me to defend an official. These guys try so hard, and if you're in the right position, I can defend it.

What I think people forget sometimes is that in the NHL, whether it's Kerry Frasier or Don Koharski or yourself, you've all heard it just as bad as the guys at this level have

Bonney: Yes, we have. There isn't anything they say down here that we haven't heard up there. You hear it, you listen to them, a coach or a general manager phones, asks you a question, they give their opinion, but sometimes they get so excited they'll give their opinion, and then when I look at the tape the opinion that they gave is not the exact same thing that happened on the tape. So much emotion goes into it.

We've seen CHL refs work in the AHL, and enter the NHL training program, so you can be just as smart or just as stupid at the higher level, huh?

Cruickshank: Exactly. Our league's been blessed lately with the two supervisors we've had. How does a coach argue with these guys who have such a great resume, all the hockey they've seen, and not only that but what they can provide the younger guys coming through our program. We're very fortunate, and I tip my hat to the CHL for providing these opportunities.

Now, do we have a 'Rule 41' problem, or is it just being enforced more?

Bonney: I don't know if you had a problem with it last year, it just seems more situations are happening. A lot of rules come under that one rule.

Cruickshank: I think it comes from parity, the league has grown, all the teams are evenly matched, any given night it's a battle. Emotion's always been a big part of the game, and it always will be. What you might be seeing is some coaches are new to the coaching ranks, coming right off being a player, and sometimes a little bit too much of the player instincts are in there. I like to think a lot of them are spur of the moment and afterwards [it's forgotten] but as Wayne said, he's gonna back us up. The coaches should be thinking twice about venting in that situation. We're out there doing the best we can and as long as we are, we're gonna get backed up and they'll be held accountable.

Anything that really made you laugh or got your goat that a coach has said to you?

Cruickshank: I guess it was Brent Hughes, last year in Memphis, they had a guy who could juggle 14 frisbees and balance a ball at the end of his nose, and between periods he says to me "you ever wonder what you look like on the ice?" All in good humor.

Does the way a coach expresses himself count?

Cruickshank: There's an old expression, you can catch more flies with sugar than you can with vinegar. If you want to scream and yell, you're not going anywhere. If you want to talk to me, calmly, quietly, I think that's the best way to come across. A lot of us don't have any room for coaches screaming and yelling because it's a no-win situation.

Another perception fans have is that certain players who have had penalties or suspensions in the past, the league is on the lookout for him. Is that not the case?

Bonney No, that's not the case. I don't know who is a tough guy or who isn't a tough guy. Actually, I haven't got a clue who is in first place or who is in last. When I rule on a decision I look at the play and watch the replay and say this is the decision. I don't know if the guy is a goalscorer or a tough guy. I try to keep it fair like that and I find that it's working.

Even for supplemental discipline, Duane Lewis isn't gonna say, "well, we suspended so-and-so for such-and-such last year?"

Bonney: Duane might say that once or twice, but I say, you know what, that's last year. Every decision that I've made this year, I look at the replay, Duane looks at the replay, and so does Brad [Treliving], and then we all get in a room and all of us make the decision, say "this is the number we're gonna get," and I get the final decision. They give their opinion, and I have to respect their opinion, they've been here longer than I have, Brad might say 1 game and I might say five games. Then I have to sit down and once they give their opinion, I make the final decision and I go back and tell them and they say ok, that's it.

One of the things I'd like to say to the fans is that I will defend all the officials on just about every call they do, but they do make mistakes, they are human, and when they are wrong I do say to the coach, yeah, he made a mistake, and we're gonna show the tape and try to make him better. Our guys try their best and they are gonna make mistakes and hopefully they learn from their mistakes. We don't think our officials are perfect.

You can always tell the players and coaches, "you guys make mistakes too," right?

Bonney: Unfortunately as an official, when you make a mistake sometimes the outcome is a goal, and a team loses. You hate to do that. They feel really bad about it. They try not to make any mistakes -- just like a player, they give their hardest. Sometimes, if you work 70 games, unfortunately you have a bad game once in awhile. But you try your best.
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