There are a select group of individuals at every ECHL game that serve an important role. They are the off-ice officials. Every ECHL team has a similar group of dedicated individuals who have a love of hockey and are a vital part of the game. This story is about who they are and what they do.
In Allen, the off-ice officials are group of 15 (mostly men) that have one thing in common and that is a love of hockey. They come from all over the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex and have occupations as varied as criminal investigator, working for the Tollway Authority, fitness studio owner, several different IT positions, retired advertising salesman, family practice nursing staff, working for the IRS, owner of an auto transport business, and working in city government.
The guy responsible for all aspects of the off-ice officiating crew from recruitment, training, game assignments, game operations, coordinating with coaches and on-ice officials, problem resolution and anything else that comes up before during or after the game is a native Minnesotan named Keith Fastle.
Keith grew up in Minneapolis playing pick up hockey on the outdoor rinks in this neighborhood. He never played organized hockey as a kid. Hockey has always been in Keith’s blood as his high school team went to the state tournament finals three consecutive years (1973-75). He attended the University of Minnesota and got to watch many future “miracle on ice” 1980 Olympians and NHL players (Bill Baker, Neal Broten, Steve Christoff, Mike Ramsey, Steve Janaszak, Buzz Schneider, Eric Strobel, Phil Verchota and of course coach Herb Brooks). Brooks led the University of Minnesota to NCAA championships on 1974, 1976 & 1979.
Keith moved to Texas in 1984 and started playing men’s hockey in 1993. In the season of 1995-96 he started as an on-ice official through USA hockey and officiated for 15 years, working over 5000 hockey games. He began as an off-ice official with the Texas Tornado junior team in Frisco and transferred to the Allen Americans when they started seven years ago. Keith worked on the crew in Allen doing everything from recording shots, goal judge, clock, penalty box, and official scorer. Two years ago, he took over as the crew chief of the Allen Americans off-ice crew.
Keith is responsible for recruiting the team. The core group has been around for a while, but each year there is a need to find new officials. Keith uses his contacts through the hockey community and also reaches out to fans and others who may be interested. The best recruiting tool is word of mouth.
These are all volunteer positions so a love of hockey is a must. The officials do get free tickets for use by their friends and family and free pizza is provided before each game.
On game day Keith is responsible for scheduling game personnel to the various positions. Here is the list of jobs:
Home penalty box attendant
Visitor penalty box attendant
Goal judges (2)
Stats Input (2)
Official Scorers (2)
The two stats input jobs entail inputting into the ECHL software on a real time basis all of the information you see when looking at boxscores. These folks sit in the press box.
The plus/minus officials are responsible for tracking who was on the ice when a goal is scored. They also sit in the press box.
The spotter is an official who sits in the press box who has access to the ECHL TV feed and can go back and review plays to make sure everything is correct.
The two official scorers sit in the stands and manually track the movement of the puck so when a goal is scored it can be determined who was the goal scorer and who had the assists. They literally write down the player’s number each time the puck moves from player to player.
Here is what the official scorekeepers work papers look like.
With so many different jobs and a small staff to pull from, the key to success is most all of the crew can do multiple jobs. If there are not enough officials to cover all of the positions, multi-tasking takes over and some take on two jobs.
As the crew chief, Keith has several pre-game duties in addition to making all of the staff assignments. He meets with the on-ice officials as well as the visiting coach to brief them and answer any questions they may have.
When asked why he puts so much time and effort into a volunteer job while still trying to run the two businesses he owns Keith didn’t have to think, “To start with I love hockey, but first and foremost the best I get out of being the crew chief is the relationship and camaraderie with the crew. That is for sure number one. The second aspect is game day and at the end of the game when everything goes off without a hitch. The stats are correct and everybody had a good time. I can’t get this done without the crew that always give me 100%.”
There are certainly some less pleasant parts of the job. Keith has to get involved if any official violates the code of ethics which emphasizes the importance of being impartial. There is no cheering for the home team, no mingling of the job with players or booster club, no visiting other ECHL rinks and cheering for the Americans. Keith goes over all of these issues at a training session before the season starts but every once in a while has to deal with problems during the season. There are also issues that arise from players (goals or assists), goalies (shot totals) and coaches who are not happy with the official stats.
Tommy Daniels, Vice President of Broadcasting and Media Relations for the Allen Americans is responsible for the off-ice crew and works closely with Keith.
“Keith Fastle is the best off-ice crew chief in the league as far as I am concerned,” Daniels said. “What distinguishes Keith is that he is a former long time on ice official. It is invaluable to have someone with his knowledge be in charge of the off-ice crew. The fact that the off-ice officials contribute their time as volunteers to help the Allen Americans is greatly appreciated. Some come from as far away as Tarrant county. They don’t get paid and give up a lot of Friday and Saturday nights which shows how much they love the game.”
Over the last couple of years I have gotten to know many of the off-ice officials as everyone meets in the press box prior to the game. Here is a little background on a few of them.
Tom Pease is a retired advertising salesman and the spirit of the off-ice officials. I don’t think he has ever met someone that isn’t a friend. He is known in the press box as the “candyman,” pastry chef and all around good guy. Tom loves to cook and is kind enough to bring desserts for the press box to every game. He specializes in all kinds of fudge (banana, peach, orange, cinnamon, marshmallow creme to name a few) but over the course of the year it is amazing at how many different types of fudge, brownies, cookies, and bars Tom has made.
Tom started his career as an off-ice official by literally being plucked out of the stands. When Tom and his wife Sharon were first married, they decided to get tickets to the Dallas Black Hawks who played at Fair Park. It just so happened their seats were located where the crew chief of the off-ice officials would walk by every game. He got to know Tom and one night asked if he would do him a favor and work the penalty box since he had a guy missing. The next night he asked if Tom could work the penalty box for the rest of the season. Tom asked what it paid and was told two tickets, free parking and a drink and he took the job. That was around 1970 and Tom has worked as an off-ice official ever since.
Over the last forty plus years Tom has worked for the Black Hawks, Dallas Freeze, Texas Tornado, Dallas Stars and Allen Americans. He still works for the Stars and you can often see him close up on the Stars TV broadcast as they have a camera in the penalty box. For the Americans, Tom usually is in the visitors penalty box but sometimes is the penalty timekeeper.
It has always been a family affair for Tom and Sharon who has always accompanied him to games. Their son was a stick boy for the Dallas Freeze for two years when he was a youngster.
Dave Major grew up in Buffalo, New York, so hockey was a big part of his life growing up. After a 20 year career as an accountant, Dave now owns and operates two Koko fitness studios, both in the Dallas/Fort Worth area.
Here is his Dave’s story in his own words.
“I don’t remember how I became interested in hockey, but I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t a hockey fan. No doubt it was the Buffalo Sabres that sparked my interest.
One of my earliest memories is of a wooden Buffalo Sabres mini hockey stick that my parents bought for me. I must have been 3 or 4 years old at the time. The stick was just my size and I played hockey all over the house with it, usually pretending to be my favorite player, Gilbert Perreault. As I got older, I would spend hours playing street hockey or pond hockey with neighborhood friends, or by myself in the basement of our house shooting tennis balls against the wall. When the tennis ball came flying back at me, I went into goalie mode and tried to make the save.
As a kid growing up in the 70’s and 80’s, hockey didn’t get the coverage that it does today – there simply was no such thing as an Internet or NHL Network. But Buffalo is right on the US-Canadian border which meant our TV picked up a few Canadian TV channels. So in addition to the Sabres games that were carried on local TV, I grew up watching Hockey Night in Canada every Saturday night. I got to see a lot more hockey on TV than most during that time, and I watched and played as much hockey as I could.
My playing career spanned about 35 years. I started playing organized hockey at age 6, which was the minimum age at the time. Sadly, I peaked at about age 9 and my NHL dreams were over before I could shave. But I carried on and kept playing competitively through high school, serving as team Captain during my senior year. In college and beyond, I played in local Buffalo or Dallas area men’s leagues and just recently hung up the skates for good a year or two ago.
Tommy Daniels is also from Buffalo, NY. We actually met in the Dallas area while watching a Buffalo Bills NFL game. We got together several years ago to a football or hockey game and I half jokingly asked Tommy how I could get a job opening and closing the penalty box door. A few weeks later, I got a call from the then Off-Ice Crew Chief, Chris Ellsworth. Chris said he got my name from Tommy and that the off-ice crew was short handed. He asked if I would be willing to help out for a game or two as a goal judge. I enthusiastically said yes, but thought my career was over before it really started. During my second game, I erroneously turned the goal light on even though the puck never entered the net. I felt terrible and wanted to crawl under the ice to hide. I was certain Chris would not invite me back, but here I am 5 years later. (Note – I’ve changed my goal judge technique and haven’t prematurely turned the goal light on since!)
Over the years I have worked all of the off-ice official jobs, but most often serve as official scorer which is easily my favorite job to do. I enjoy the people who I get to work with on the off-ice crew. We’re from all kinds of backgrounds and all dedicated to the game of hockey.
Being an off-ice official also keeps me connected to a sport I’m passionate about. Even though I’m not on the ice in the middle of the action, I very much feel like I am part of the game.”
Todd Miller grew up in Grand Prairie, Texas and is a Senior Systems Administrator for the City of Plano. He became interested in hockey while he was stationed in San Diego in the Navy. He and his roommate would take in San Diego Gulls games, who at the time were coached by current Allen Americans coach Steve Martinson.
When Todd returned to the D/FW area, he started playing hockey at the Duncanville StarsCenter. He got hooked up with the Allen Americans by becoming a season ticket holder. Todd started talking to one of the off-ice officials who introduced Todd to Keith Fastle. Todd didn’t know Keith was the off-ice official crew chief but has known him since Todd played hockey in Duncanville where Keith would referee some of his games. After talking to Keith, he joined the crew.
Here is what Todd has to say about being an off-ice official.
“This is my third season with the Americans and most of the time I am assigned as the visitor goal judge but some times I call shots on goal as well. I enjoy being an official because I am around the game that I love and still play. I am a big hockey fan.
I would like fans to know that while a goal judge’s job may look easy, it is far from easy. There are times where it is really hard to see the puck under a bunch of players and the goalie. While the goal or no goal decision is ultimately with the referee, there are times they ask the goal judge what they saw.”
Gabriela Baker is one of two females on the off-ice officiating crew. Here is her story in her own words.
“I grew up in Plano, Texas. I studied Information Technology at the University of Oklahoma, and after spending two years in the field I decided it was a better hobby than career for me. I am currently in the medical field pursuing a career in Cardiovascular Surgery, I hope to be a board certified Surgeon within the next decade.
I have always been an overall sports fan, but growing up in Texas and having parents from the south did not give hockey a fair chance. It had always been interesting but I did not understand it nor did my friends or family. I went out on a whim and auditioned for the Allen Americans Ice Angels and was a part of the 2014-2015 team. After auditions we got thrown in to a Hockey 101 study session. I was hooked. Winning the Kelly Cup was definitely icing on the cake.
This is my first season as an off-ice official and it has given me a whole new view at the game. I’ve learned so much from the crew who is made up of so many veteran players, former referees & linesman, and just over all fans of the game.
From our side it is very much a statistical game and that is my forte. I am one of two in charge of live updating the ECHL application. I keep track of the shots on goal for both visiting and away teams. I track who, when and where for every shot on goal. This also includes goals, plus/minus, and assists on each goal. Our job can get stressful and busy with everyone helping out and backing up to make sure we have everything correct. But we have a great crew, everyone gets along and we always have a good time. We come to the rink excited to watch some hockey.”
I learned a lot while putting together this story that was new to me. Here are a few examples:
– The official scorers (OS) are responsible for getting the lineups before the game. They watch warm ups and record all players taking part in warm ups. Five minutes after the completion of warm ups the two OS’s head to the locker rooms. While one waits outside, the other gets the lineup from the visiting coach. They then take that lineup to the home coach and get his lineup. Next, they return to the visiting team’s coach and give him the home team’s lineup. The line up card is actually a four part form. The coaches each get a copy, the referee gets a copy, and there is a copy given to one of the interns to make copies to be distributed in the press box. In addition, the OS radios PA announcer Lee Hastings with the starting line up.
– All of the off-ice officials work as a team to try and make sure they get everything correct. Everyone is connected by radio and they work together to insure goals, assists, shots on goal and plus/minus are recorded accurately.
– When Tom Pease works the penalty box for the Dallas Stars, he takes the puck out of play at the first stoppage after each two minutes of play, after each goal and after each commercial time out. Tom gets 15 pucks per period and stores them in a freezer in the penalty box. For the Americans, the only time the puck gets changed is when it goes out of play. He gets 15 pucks for the entire game and the pucks are stored in a bucket of ice.
– Goalies are really sensitive about the number of shots on goal that are recorded and sometimes challenge the number. A shot on goal is not any puck that would go in the goal if the goalie wasn’t there. There is the concept of intent when crediting a shot on goal. For example, if a defenseman clears the puck down the ice and it happens to be on goal that is not considered intent so no shot on goal is recorded.
– If you see the off-ice officials walking around the Allen Event Center in their blue blazers with an ECHL patch, before or after a game or between periods, make sure to stop and thank them for volunteering their services. It is a critical and sometimes thankless job.
– If you would like to become a member of the off-ice crew they are always looking for help. The only qualifications you need is a love of hockey and the ability to be neutral in your actions. If you are too big of an Allen fan and can’t resist jumping up and down after every goal, you are not off-ice official material.
– As for pay it is not much different than in 1970 when Tom Pease started with the Dallas Black Hawks. A couple of tickets, free parking, a slice of pizza and a drink. The one difference is you get to sample one of Tom’s many desserts that he so graciously provides each game.
– If you are interested in becoming an off-ice official contact Keith Fastle. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org and his telephone number is 214-642-9542.
I want to thank Dianne Webster for taking the photos used in this story and also Mary Betz and Ted Hosterman for their help with the story.