BUFFALO – When Jessica Leclerc ran into the corner of the ice rink, she was already blurry. On & # 39; s an arm When she stopped, she whistled a penalty. A decisive handshake on the sleeve signaled a cut.
This is what hockey justice looks like – or would be if it were an actual game. It was just an exercise. No hockey players had been stripped or punished, and Leclerc had the blueline do it all over again.
Welcome to the National Hockey League's official association, an annual late summer festival of phantom calls and puck-drops. On four days in mid-August, 86 aspiring game officers from all over North America met in the Harbor Center, the training center for two ice rinks next to the Buffalo Sabers home arena.
Every spring, on the same ice, the N.H.L. puts the best draft-enabled players to the test. This is a storefront like this, but with fewer fans, less news media, and a lot more striped sweaters. Instead of showing extravagant goals by, for example, Sidney Crosby, top-class referees ran on television in the arcades.
Part training camp, part clinic, the combine is a job fair for some. N.H.L. has hired 27 officers to audition at the event. Others are in an exploration phase and are trying to find out whether the current life is for them.
"Not everyone comes to the N.H.L.," said Al Kimmel, head of the league's Scouting and Development department for the office. "It's similar to the players: 2 or 3 percent, only the elite."
For more than a century, N.H.L. Officials monitored the game and adhered to the rules. Nobody remembers it.
It's the bugs that are fixed in the minds of players, coaches, and fans – the penalties that weren't mentioned, the goals that shouldn't have counted.
"It's a hell of a job," said Clarence Campbell, third president of N.H.L. said in 1964 when he was considering the arbitrators' lot. "A man must have iron in his soul to command the will."
Hockey is faster on ice today and is a bigger business overall. One thing is for the 44 referees and 38 line judges who work at the N.H.L. busy, remained constant: the culture of high-resolution control that they inhabit.
For all the drama that happened on the St. Louis Blues & # 39; unlikely championship in June, the playoffs were also distorted by several official mistakes. Noteworthy among these: A hand pass from San Josés Timo Meier, which led to an overtime goal between the Sharks and the Blues in the final of the Western Conference. That should have stopped playing, but none of the four officials saw it. According to the rules in force at the time, the piece could not be checked.
The goal and indignation were there.
When asked about Meier's treatment, N.H.L. Commissioner Gary Bettman said: "What I thought it would be good if I could keep my head from exploding."
Shortly after the season ended, the League's Board of Governors approved a number of new rules and expanded the video review.
"Officials make mistakes," said Stephen Walkom, director of the league, "and they are always held accountable in this regard."
If the speed of the game makes it more exciting to watch, it also increases the challenges for those trying to keep an eye on pucks and bodies. The introduction of video verification helped the officials. It can also increase the stake and pressure.
"Once people thought," Oh, the umpire was great because he made 80 percent of the calls right, "Walkom said. the more than 600 N.H.L. Games. "If he does 99 percent right now, but does one wrong, that's a big problem."
He added: “When you sit in my chair, you always hear that the office needs to be improved. So you think, "OK, how?"
The introduction of the combine was part of the answer. In Campbell's time and beyond, the N.H.L.'s method of supplying the league with officials was never particularly systematic.
"The resources and focus on the office were limited," said Kimmel. “We now run it like a team. Bring in new draft picks every year and watch them evolve and push the group in front of you to improve everyone. "
And today, Walkom said, "Whether you're a line judge or a referee, you have to be an athlete."
At the combine, the participants divided their waxing hours between the ice and the nearby gym. There they rested and cycled and planked under the eyes of high-performance fitness trainers and Walkoms N.H.L. current office.
They also rattled and continued into the classrooms to measure themselves against the laptops they were running visual exercises to assess depth perception and information processing. In another room, they focused on interactive screens that streamed an app called uCall to test how quickly they responded to games that were unfolding in real time.
Throughout the weekend, attendees gathered sticks to participate in a tournament alternating under the guidance of graduate students from combine harvesters who are now at N.H.L. The hockey was quick, skillful and mostly pipe-free. The noise from the benches wasn't all for the gates that fell: on this ice, with this amount, it was just as likely that a dubious offside would overturn the house.
Leclerc, 34, from Saco, Maine, came to the combine and was in charge of hockey since she was 13. When she's not on the ice, she works as an administrator in an assisted living facility. When she was, she looked after youth and young hockey and served as a line woman at the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea.
Women are still waiting for their chance to get an N.H.L. Pipes. Eleven women took part in this year's combine, four of which took part in pre-season rookie tournaments. Without committing to a schedule, Walkom said it mattered when women took the next step, not when.
Leclerc wasn't sure if she would be part of it, but "hopefully," she said, "when she's here this weekend it really shows that women can compete and that gender really doesn't matter when she takes office . "
Corey Syvret, a Florida Panthers draft picker from 2007 who played eight seasons as a defender of a small league, took part in the combine in 2017 and adapted quickly enough to get away from the N.H.L. this year. The 30-year-old and combine harvester mentor spent two full seasons in the American Hockey League along with more than 30 years in regular season N.H.L. Games.
The intensity is what he appreciates in his new calling and what he has "caught" by the game in which he plays.
"As a hockey player you are reckless out there"He said." You're trying to see what you can get away with. "
For those wondering if hockey law enforcement could be a life for them, Walkom said, "You love it better."
He smiled and noticed that a referee is only perfect during the anthem before the puck falls.
"The best golfer in the world is the one who has weathered the bad shot the quickest," he added. "In hockey you make mistakes and recover quickly. You need this attitude as a referee. "