The persistent abuse hurled at young hockey referees by coaches and parents is causing almost a third of New Brunswick officials to quit annually.
Glen Hurley, the head of officiating at Hockey New Brunswick, said he's losing 400 referees and linesmen every year because of the verbal haranguing they receive.
'Most people who go to a minor hockey game just sit back and enjoy the game and that's it. It's that 10 per cent that cause the problem.'— Glen Hurley, Hockey New Brunswick
"One of the outstanding things that I hear a lot of is the abuse that the officials take in the hockey rinks," Hurley said.
"Especially the younger, level one and two officials, they basically just decide that it's not for them and that's not a way to have a part-time job."
Some New Brunswick hockey fans recently saw another disturbing incident involving a referee, but this time witnesses say it was the official who was the instigator.
In Sussex, a 21-year-old referee is accused of taking a swing at the tournament organizer after he questioned why he wouldn't let the captain of a Moncton girls' hockey team, who had been ejected from the game earlier, back on the ice to participate in a post-game celebration.
Hockey New Brunswick is investigating the incident, which it believes is the first time a referee has provoked a fight with an organizer.
Following the Sussex altercation the hockey community chalked up the incident to the intense pressure that referees are under during games.
Officials need better support
Hurley said local minor hockey associations must do more to support officials by keeping abusers away from the referees, because appeals to the public are not enough.
"Most people who go to a minor hockey game just sit back and enjoy the game and that's it," Hurley said. "It's that 10 per cent that cause the problem. And it's that 10 per cent that the awareness campaign is not touching on."
Officials as young as 12 years old work novice games, and they do so often without a more experienced on-ice mentor with them.
"That's a mentorship-type situation, and we'd like to strive for that," he said.
"Unfortunately it doesn't always happen, just because of sheer numbers with the amount of games being played that need to be covered."
Mark MacFadzen, the president of the Fredericton Youth Hockey Association, said he would like to see young referees have some on-ice assistance when they first start dropping the puck in local games.
"Give them a little more comfort level when they come into these situations — such as fights, and arguments, and maybe parent abuse or a coache's abuse — [by showing them] how they handle those situations," MacFadzen said.