A Group Left Out of the Discussion Following the Jack Jablonski Tragedy: REFEREES
What happened to Jack Jablonski is every hockey parent's nightmare. My hockeymama heart (I have a Bantam player myself) goes out to Jack and his family as every day I pray for him, his family and the boys who caused the injury.
So far, the focus in the aftermath of this tragedy has been on players and coaches and what they should do to prevent these types of injuries from happening, which is a conversation that is right and appropriate at this time. However, there is a group who seem to have been left out of the discussion: The Referees. Referees have as much or more power in prevention of these injuries as the coaches and players do. They are the ones on the ice who are supposed to be watching for illegal/cheap play and penalizing the players (or coaches if they're encouraging such play) for that type of play. I've been to many hockey games where, as the game progressed, the play became rougher and cheaper and the potential for injury higher - with the refs doing little to penalize the players, or, if they do start assigning penalties, they're so one-sided that the kids on the team getting the penalties seem to figure "What does it matter? I'm getting a penalty whether I touch the kid or not - who cares?" and the hits and fights get worse instead of better. Everyone is talking about how to make hockey safer. We've already witnessed a change in the rules for checking - that Peewees will no longer be allowed to check (which will actually result in more injuries because at the Bantam level, the size difference in kids can be as much as 100 lbs and 10 inches; a lot of damage is going to be done by kids who haven't learned how to not only give a legal check but also how to take one). How about some changes to the refereeing? How making refs accountable for the kind of game that results from their handling of game conduct? How about a way for parents and/or coaches to hold the refs accountable? How about at the State tournaments, the line refs be allowed to call penalties other than "off-sides" (as we saw last year at the Bantam B1 State tournament in Marshall, MN)?
The discussion as to how to make hockey safer is an important one, but don't leave the Refs out of the discussion.