Officiating a hockey game.
It’s a tough job no matter what age group, atom through to the SJHL and beyond, but someone has to do it.
After all, if no one willingly chose to don the stripes then hockey, quite simply, would cease to exist.
Without the people who keep the integrity of the game intact, the sport would collapse quicker than the Leafs in the 2013 playoffs.
However these men (and women) who bravely choose to officiate hockey games do so knowing what awaits them.
They know they’ll be lambasted with insults from the petty to the overtly hostile, occasionally struck by beer cups both empty and half full of both alcohol and contempt, and harassed by people who deem it necessary to voice their opinion on what they believe to be an ‘inexcusable, obviously biased’ penalty call.
But what people do not realize is that the referees do not call a penalty on a team because they dislike them.
In fact, according to Sean Dufour, a hockey official of 27 years, they don’t really think about the penalty call at all. “It’s really just a matter of reacting to the situation,” said Dufour moments after officiating a Yorkton Terriers playoff game. “You’re not necessarily looking for something. You see something and you react to it (and that’s it).”
Dufour also mentioned that “there is nothing personal at all about it (calling penalties)” and that it’s really just a matter of “protecting players and maintaining the integrity of the game.”
The fact that calling penalties against a team isn’t personal hasn’t stopped the fans from yelling and cursing at Dufour (or his fellow referee peers), however.
But after 27 years in total, 10 as an SJHL ref, the heckling really doesn’t register on Dufour during a game. “Honestly it doesn’t bother me,” offered the Rocanville native, who has also worked as a linesman in the WHL for 10 years. “I don’t really hear a whole lot of personal attacks on me. What I do hear are the general comments like “you’re brutal” and the boos, but that’s it.”
However, instead of resenting the fans and punishing their team with penalties, something he could very well do, Dufour just brushes it off, saying, “Hey, they’re hockey fans. They’re passionate, they love their teams and I understand and respect that.
“I just want them to realize that we have a job to do and that is to maintain the integrity of the game no matter what the situation is, what the score is or how many penalties you’ve had in a row. We just have to maintain the integrity of the game no matter what and that’s what we are out there to do and that’s what we get paid for.”
And although he and his fellow officials do, indeed, get paid, Dufour mentioned that they also have families and day jobs and that reffing is something that he does outside of regular work hours.
So why, if they aren’t making a living by officiating hockey games, do these people put up with the heckling of not only the fans, but players and coaches as well?
Dufour summed it up perfectly by saying, simply, “It’s for the love of the game.”