Whether you love them or hate them, the job the on-ice officials do are key to the sport we all know and love. They often are booed out of arenas or become victims of verbal assault from passionate hockey fans. In all reality, the men in stripes are the “Third Team” and hockey couldn’t be played without them.
Have you ever wondered how an on-ice official prepares, travels, or how they are working to get to the next level? This article shadows ECHL/AHL referee Peter Tarnaris, a 28-year-old from Long Grove, Illinois.
Officials just like players have routines on game day. Tarnaris shared his game day routine,
“I am an early riser. Some guys like to sleep in, but I am usually awake by 7:00-7:30 am on game days. Breakfast happens to be my favorite meal of the day. After a morning coffee, I will use either the hotel gym or travel to a gym in the area for a light game day workout. Whether this is circuit training or a recovery work on the bike, I usually like to get a sweat and a stretch in the morning. It feels good and breaks up the day. I will eat lunch around 1:00 pm and often eat a chicken dish of some sort. After lunch, I try to find something in town to do. I try to find a sight to see or place to visit. We are fortunate to get to travel to some neat places and I don’t have a lot of time to visit. If I am on the road for a lengthy trip, I may lay down for a nap before the game to make sure I am rested and sharp come game time.”
Tarnaris is a creature of habit. When he finds the officiating dressing room, he unpacks his bag, puts his CCM shower sandals over his dress shoes, lays out his equipment the same way and gets dressed in his warm-up gear and begins to stretch. It helps keep his mind at ease before the game, “I am a creature of habit when it comes to game days. I often go through the same routine prior to the game and tend to set up my equipment in the same manner, no matter what building I am skating in. The routine keeps my mind at ease and allows me to keep focus on the game,” said Peter who also watches most of warm-ups from rink-side, which allows him to digest how the two teams are feeling towards each other, especially if it’s the final game of a weekend series.
“PT” as he is known to his brothers in stripes spends a lot of time in airports and behind the wheel. Travel is a must when you officiate pro hockey. “I have gotten a lot of practice at packing for all four seasons. Some trips take us from coast to coast, via plane, in some very different climates. Other trips get us some windshield time in the car and often driving after the game is over to the next city. It is a good mix of the two. Weather and delays always keep you on your toes, but it comes with the territory,” noted Tarnaris.
If you’re familiar with the ECHL and AHL you know about the back-to-back games that feature the same two teams. That’s why it’s important to establish your credibility early in game one and keep it consistent and fair according to Tarnaris, “Typically in the ECHL you will see a lot of three-in-three games due to travel between teams and preferred game dates. As a referee you react to what the players give you. Typically game one is a feeling out process between the teams, however as a referee you must establish your standard and presence.”
He also went on to say, “ This is your first opportunity at establishing your credibility with the teams. Game two is typically the toughest of the three games in the series. One team will either tie the series 1-1 with a win or go down 0-2. You must maintain the same standard and presence as always, keeping a heightened awareness on areas away from the puck and plays at the net or after the whistle. The third game of the weekend, you often manage the emotion that has built up from Friday and Saturday, reacting to what the teams give you and maintaining the same standard as throughout the weekend. Most important of all, you want to maintain consistency throughout the series.”
During the game fans may see officials communicate with each other during timeouts and stoppages of play. Communication between referees and linesmen is essential to calling a successful game at any level. “Communication is key in what we do, not only with players and coaches, but with our officiating team. On the ice, we don’t always have the luxury to stop and have a conversation with our partners. We end up using non-verbal cues or signals/body language in some situations. Other situations we are able to have a quick chat while skating by or at a stoppage of play. We often help raise each other’s awareness as to a hit that may have occurred, a play that may have risen the temperature of the game or maybe even offering a bit of a positive feedback to your officiating teammates on a job well done,” said Peter
The communication has to be there between the officials, players and coaches too as Tarnaris put it, “Communication is an integral part of what we do as officials. We communicate both verbally and non-verbally on the ice. Merely having a presence in some situations or body language communicates a lot about an official. Having played the game, I understand that there is emotion involved, however having experience on “the other side” of the whistle; I also understand that there is a time and place for conversation. Understanding why a player is asking a question rather than just the question itself is very important. Most importantly, I have found that showing that you are human first and an official second carries in our game.”
Currently Tarnaris is calling games in both the ECHL and the AHL. In the American League a majority of the games are worked in a four man system (two referees, two linesmen), while in the ECHL games are called in a three man system until playoffs (one referee, two linesmen). “The four official system allows us to always be in an ideal position while play is coming toward you. Having an extra set of eyes on the ice helps with gathering situations, players that have come together behind the play and communicating with an extra teammate is good for the game. It allows you to get a cleaner look at plays and always be in a great position to see a play clearly,” battered Tarnaris
Although Tarnaris takes his job seriously, he’s no stranger to pulling practical jokes in the comfort of the officials’ locker room. “I was skating a game earlier this season and one of the officials had been coming off the end of a long road trip with stops at home to take care of his newborn son. Presumably not having much sleep, he seemed a bit off in the room and wasn’t his upbeat self. The quietness had the guys worried. So, while we were all warming up, I noticed a rack of fancy rental skates that had sparkly glitter laces and an all plastic boot setup down the hallway from our room. I chose to replace his skates in his bag with this fancy upgrade. The rest of us kept a stone cold straight face while he pulled them out of his bag after warming up. It got a good chuckle out of our tired friend and everyone was back to normal!” Peter explained about how a good prank can rally a group of officials.
What’s Tarnaris’ end goal? Just like any player to work in the NHL. He is almost in striking distance as he is refereeing in the top two feeder leagues that shuttle players and officials to the NHL. To get there Tarnaris is always learning. He considers himself a student of the game as he said, “I take pride in being a student of the game. No matter how long you’re involvement in our game, there are still things that happen for the first time. The game is always evolving and I try to keep myself on top of it. Physical fitness is a necessity when it comes to our game. Hockey has become a twelve-month sport and controlling workout habits along with nutrition has been a focus of mine. I have worked as a power skating coach in the off season with hockey player and have the luxury of being able to get time to practice an essential part of our business. Most importantly, knowing that you must control what you can control and never take a night for granted. The best officials in my eyes are the ones that can stay at the top of their game each and every game. Everyone can have a good game, stringing 75 along is the true testament.”
Hockey fans are known to voice their displeasure at officials from time-to-time; however; Tarnaris’ message is clear while he understands your frustration, make it an environment you want children to feel comfortable in, “Without fans we probably do not have professional hockey. I would agree that fans are generally passionate people; however; most of the time I believe they direct their vocalization at a jersey, not the individual. The game of hockey is a fast paced, hard-hitting game of skill and action. To enjoy that in the town you live in is a real treat. I think that we should try to continue to grow the game by way of setting a model for our upcoming generation of hockey fans, players, coaches and officials. That being said, be someone you would like to bring your children to the game with.”
In closing, Tarnaris is successfully climbing the officiating ladder to the NHL and gets closer game by game.