Here is a little news flash: NHL referees do not have anything against your favourite team.
They don't stay up late at night plotting how to ensure your team gets eliminated from the Stanley Cup playoffs. They make mistakes and are usually the first to admit it. But when the playoffs roll around, it's almost as if NHL referees become more important than the players in the minds of some.
Since Gary Bettman became NHL commissioner in 1993, he has worked hard to make the league's on-ice officials anonymous. They used to have their names on the back of their sweaters. He ordered them removed. Now there is just a number. Referees and linesmen used to have personalities. Now they are robots.
And despite what some emotional fans think, the NHL's referees and linesmen don't give a hoot who wins the games.
I spoke with a former NHL ref, who asked that his name not be included in this story, and he talked about life as a big-league official at this time of the season, when every call and non-call seems so critical to the outcome of a game and, hence, a series.
The ref wanted to assure all hockey fans there is no conspiracy to determine the outcome of games.
"The biggest misconception is that the officials would have some vested interest in the outcome," he said. "One thing we always say is the guys in stripes are the only ones on the ice that don't care who wins.
"There is extra coverage with all the networks covering the games, which is great for hockey. But it does add extra focus on the officiating, for sure."
The fact of the matter is refs and linesmen, like the players, are trying to be as good as they can be so they continue working. Only the best among them advance through three rounds to the Stanley Cup final.
"There is accountability," the ref said. "People think there isn't. But that just is not true.
"There is huge accountability and it affects their livelihood, their finances and their careers. Referees and linesmen are as proud as the players and they want to go as deep into the playoffs as they can."
'Using positive reinforcement'
The ref I spoke to applauded the NHL for the way it handles the on-ice officials at the most critical time of the year. Obviously, the league wants every call to be the correct call. But when mistakes are made, refs and linesmen aren't thrown under the bus.
"The league is understanding of the pressures that exist, so it is very supportive of the guys," he said. "I always say it's like any other job - screaming and yelling at people doesn't make things better.
"You do everything you can to try to improve [the officiating]. But you are best using positive reinforcement."
Occasionally, incorrect calls are made and some of those affect the outcome. I'm not sure why some fans hold the officials to a higher standard than the players and coaches. Does the coach always have the right players on the ice? Is his strategy on any given night fail-safe? Does the player pass when he should shoot and shoot when passing is a better option?
'Reacting all the time'
As coverage of professional hockey has increased and improved, the emphasis on officials' calls has amplified. We now have the ability to watch plays in super-slow motion. Too bad the game is played and officiated in real time.
"You are reacting all the time," the ref said. "You react to things as they happen quickly. You don't have time to think out some kind of a grand plan.
"I always say it is better to look at the big picture - the overall game from start to finish - rather than isolate one incident. If you do zero in on one incident that goes against your team, then you have to look back at the incidents that might have gone for your team earlier. You look at the whole game, not one disallowed goal or one missed offside."
With more than two rounds to go in this year's playoffs, refs and linesmen will continue to be in the spotlight. History indicates most of their calls will be correct and, occasionally, one or two will not. If a call goes against your favorite team, it helps to know it was not part of some grand conspiracy.
It just happens.
Follow Mike Brophy on Twitter @HockeyBroph
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