First, let me make one thing clear: I am not usually a proponent of criticizing officiating. In any sport.
If an umpire has a wide strike zone, expand your batting eye. If a referee has a tendency for calling soft fouls in the paint, ease up on the contact under the basket. If skating judges prefer jumps to footwork, you’d better get some more air.
Because, although there are rules in every sport, officiating remains highly subjective. It is what it is, and human error is inevitable in every case.
But, ask any athlete what is one thing they crave among officials in their respective sport and their answers will be nearly unanimous: fairness and consistency.
And such characteristics should, for obvious reasons, be explicitly on display in championship games. In these games you have the best athletes, who are deserving of the best officiating.
Sadly, in Saturday’s OUA women’s hockey finals between Guelph and Laurier, the level of officiating did not match the level of play.
Right from when the puck was first dropped, it became apparent that the Gryphons and the Golden Hawks did not like each other, and Saturday’s game was bound to be filled with physicality and emotion. Their rivalry goes back several years, amid a history of physical play, – remember, women’s hockey is by and large non-contact – tight games and emotional players.
Initially, it seemed that despite the rules, the referees were bound and determined to let the women play largely uninterrupted, physical contact and all. Fine. But, be consistent and above all else, do NOT let the game get out of hand to the point where someone could get hurt.
As the intensity continued to build, players started to become increasingly aggressive around the crease, jabbing at non-existent rebounds and interfering with Liz Knox and Danielle Skoufranis, the two respective goaltenders – a major no-no in the hockey world, regardless of the gender of the players.
Despite the crease contact, the referees’ whistles remained silent, and the level of discomfort in the play of Knox and Skoufranis became visible. The game was getting out of hand, with no one to blame but the stripes.
Now, in officiating circles, there commonly exists the notion of ‘make-up calls’: when an official makes a borderline call that clearly favours one team, the next similarly subjective decision often favours the opposition, balancing the scales, so to speak.
And, after calling two consecutive penalties against the Golden Hawks halfway through the second period, Saturday’s officials clearly had ‘make-up call’ and not ‘make the right call’ on their minds.
In the midst of a skirmish in front of the Laurier bench, directly in the line of sight of an official, a Laurier forward inexplicably punched Gryphons defenceman Carla D’Angelo in the back of the head. This unfounded and deliberate infraction went ignored by the officials, while D’Angelo retreated to the Gryphon bench.
Furthermore, poorly judged penalties were not the only missteps from Saturday’s officiating crew. At the beginning of the second the period, with Tori Woods of the Gryphons serving the remainder of an interference penalty called at the end of the first, the Gryphons cleared the puck the length of the ice, an acceptable action, given that they were killing a penalty.
But, the officials blew the play dead, calling the Gryphons for icing. They had forgotten about Woods’ penalty altogether.
Upon recognizing their mistake, the face-off was moved to centre ice, allowing the Golden Hawks to continue their attack.
Missed offsides calls and un-whistled goaltender freezes continued throughout the final 40 minutes of play, leaving a black mark on what was otherwise, an outstanding game.
For a multitude of reasons, women’s sports fail to garner the same attention as their male counterparts. Observers often criticize women’s sports as being inherently amateur.
However, in the case of Saturday’s final, it was not the gameplay that was lacking, it was the officiating. If the OUA wants to increase attention paid to women’s sports, it’s time to find capable individuals to administer the rules.