By Rick Gethin
The NHL Officials You Don’t See, Part I can be found here.
The atmosphere gets louder as the puck is about to be dropped to start the second period of play between the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Anaheim Ducks. Upstairs in the NHL officials booth meanwhile, a hushed demeanor overtakes the men and women who keep track of the game below. At this point of the evening they’ve already recorded ninety-one (91) different statistics for this game. By the time that the final horn signals the end of the game, they will have recorded a total of three hundred six (306) stats through three regulation periods, a five minute overtime period and a shootout.
This was a fairly typical game for crew supervisor Don Supelak and the off-ice officials. Everyone there knows their job and performs it with a quiet aplomb. Fran Toussaint and Karen Schuttenberg have already entered the names of the skaters that are on the ice to start the second period. They each use one of four computers (the fifth is a backup computer) to keep track of the time-on-ice of each player, and at times use binoculars to be sure of the players they are tracking. The software is designed for ease of use by using either a mouse or touching the screen. Utilizing the Hockey Information and Tracking System (HITS), each work station can access any part of the program to keep the officials abreast of the game below them.
As the puck is dropped, the efficiency of this well oiled machine becomes evident as the speed of the game picks up. Just 1:45 into the second period a goal is scored by Anaheim. Todd Marchant is credited with a goal (snap shot, offensive zone from 12 feet) with the assists going to Getzlaf and Boynton of the Ducks. The spotter calls out the numbers of the goal and assists to help facilitate everyone in tracking what is happening. I stand behind this tight-knit group and watch with rapt fascination as their fingers seem to fly across their computers. I can’t say enough about their communication in the booth.
Standing beside me is Officiating Manager Dave Baker down from Toronto for a visit. He helps to keep me abreast of what they are doing as the game progresses and tells me that there are over 700 off-ice officials working in the NHL. He says that he makes these visits from time to time to help make sure that everything is running smoothly. He stayed behind the officials in the booth and let them go about their business as he acknowledged the fact that these seldom thought of officials are a big part of the backbone of the NHL. Him and I reminisce about the days when stats were kept with pencil and paper. As we both realized at the same time that we were showing our age, we had a quiet laugh.
3:30 after the goal by Anaheim, the Blue Jackets tie the score with a goal by Kristian Huselius. “20, 50,6 Power Play goal” is called out in the booth. There is some discussion as to who exactly should get the assists. Cue the video review (there is a wide-screen monitor carrying the local television feed on the wall). The goal sequence is run forward and backward a few times until there is a consensus among the officials. Dave Baker stands silently by and smiles at the cohesion shown by these officials.
During breaks in the on-ice play, Rob Hamilton takes the time to show me how the software works during the game. It’s one thing to look at a static display on a screen and quite another to observe it in action. Not once during my time spent with these professionals did they appear flustered or trying to catch-up with what was happening on the ice. Their demeanor showed that they have been working well together for years. I could tell that Dave Baker was proud of the crew that works the Columbus games.
By the time that the second period had drawn to a close, they had kept track of almost 100 separate statistics. Within a few minutes, they had left the booth to take a well deserved break. They knew that they would be back at it within twenty minutes. I felt drained after just one period with them in the booth and I understood the need for a break. I could see a smile of knowing they had done a good job on their faces as they filed out of the room.
So, the next time you wonder where all the stats come from for your favorite player, you will be able to look up and see the off-ice officials going about their business overlooking the ice. And be sure to look across from the team benches and behind the goals to glimpse the rest of the officials that help to keep the NHL running. If you see one in the arena as you’re leaving the game remember that they didn’t put your player in the penalty box, so give them a break. Smile, say hello and thank them for keeping all of the statistics that you so love to devour.
Once again, my grateful thanks go to Benny Ercolani, Statistician & Information Officer (Toronto) for helping to make this happen. Also thanks to Terry Gregson, Senior Vice President & Director of Officiating (Toronto) and Dave Baker, Officiating Manager (Toronto). Also grateful thanks must be given to Don Supelak and the whole Columbus off-ice officiating crew for helping me to understand exactly what it is that they do so well.