STOCKHOLM – If anyone knows what hooking, interference, or any other infraction on ice looks like, it’s Dan Marouelli. He refereed some 1,622 NHL games in the regular season, 194 more in the playoffs, four Stanley Cup finals (two game sevens of the Cup finals), two World Cup tournaments, and the 2006 Olympics.
The 57-year-old Edmonton native retired from the ice in 2010 as one of the most respected and knowledgeable referees in NHL history, and soon after he was hired by the IIHF to help adjudicate the evermore difficult international game from high above the ice.
“Prior to the  World Juniors in Buffalo I got a call from Hockey Canada asking if I’d be interested in doing this,” he recalled from his booth high above the ice at Globen Arena. “My name had been put forth by them. Jeff Sauer had been doing it on his own, and the IIHF felt it might be better if they had more than one person on the Disciplinary Panel. I liked the idea and the challenge. I think we’re making a good contribution, but, of course, you can never make everyone happy. All the same, we have the best interest of the sport in mind.”
The line that goes backwards from IIHF discipline to Hockey Canada phone call and NHL career starts, in a professional sense, in 1982. Marouelli began as a linesman, working the NHL and AHL for two seasons before switching to the orange armband of the referee.
Over the next 26 years, he was among that elite group of officials who was respected for his combination of physical qualities – skating, conditioning – and his abilities to judge fairly.
“Integrity and professionalism are what it’s all about,” he said, before adding, “but you have to earn it.”
Along the way during nearly three decades were many highlights before his final game, Toronto at Montreal, in 2010. Marouelli refereed the first outdoor game, the Heritage Classic between the Oilers and Canadiens. He reffed the two games between Chicago and Florida in Hartwall Arena, Helsinki to start the 2009/2010 season.
He was personally contacted by Igor Larionov to ref Larionov’s farewell game in Moscow during the NHL lockout in 2004/2005. But perhaps most impressively, he held the whistle for five of the seven games of the 2003 Stanley Cup finals between New Jersey and Anaheim.
And, at the end of that final game in Montreal? Every player on both teams lined up to shake his hand.
Marouelli loves the work he’s doing now at the World Championship, but he sees several challenges. “The difficult thing at a tournament like the World Championship,” he explained, “is that the players play in so many different leagues – the NHL, AHL, KHL, Swedish league, leagues all over Europe, and the officials come from all over the world as well. All these leagues have a different style of play. To get them all on the same page when they come here is a difficult challenge. The officials have an extremely difficult job.”
Be that as it may, his experience as a ref makes him understand his current position far better than anyone else. "What I relish about this role is the opportunity to help provide a safe playing environment for the players and officials, no different than when I worked as a referee, only now I'm trying to accomplish the same in a different role. I believe in what the IIHF is doing. I get the sense from the Directorate members and everyone at the IIHF is that player safety is the number-one concern, which is key to the integrity of the game, I feel.”
Just like a police officer on the street who arrests a criminal only to see the criminal get off in the court of law, Marouelli is going to make sure that acts of violence won’t go unpunished on his watch. But there is a process, a protocol which he and Sauer follow to the letter of the hockey law.
Step 1. “I watch the game from the booth, and if I see any play that looks suspicious, I mark the time, regardless if there’s a penalty or not. At the end of the period, I’ll see the video technician and review the plays. If I deem something to be a reviewable incident, I’ll send it to Jeff Sauer, my counterpart in Helsinki on the Disciplinary Panel. At the conclusion of the game, we’ll have a phone call to decide if we need to have a hearing with the player.”
Step 2. “If we have a hearing, then Jeff will be in on the conference. We’ll have the player and any representatives – general manager or coach – and an interpreter if needed. The player has the right to see the clip in its entirety, slow the clip down, see it as often as he wishes, make whatever comments he wishes. Then we’ll look at the tape again, and I’ll explain what I see. We’ll ask questions and discuss the play. It’s important the player tries to explain why he did what he did, and it’s important we explain what we’re trying to do. Obviously, it’s usually because of player safety. We have closing comments and thank them. Most times, it’s very professional.”
Step 3. “Jeff and I then decide whether we will proceed with supplementary discipline. We have to figure out what’s appropriate. It could be a stern warning, or, in most cases, a suspension.”
Although the evidence is generally the video, and the video is very clear, Marouelli believes it’s critical to the process to have a meeting with the player prior to making any decision.
“We think it’s vital to the process, in fairness to the player,” he elaborated. “And, I have to say, sometimes the player or his representatives have made comments that are pertinent, when we’re trying to establish intent or understand the actions. It’s important for them to have their say, just as in any court of law. It makes the process fairer.”
It would be nice to think Marouelli’s role has eliminated hits from behind, hits to the head, actions of intent to injure, and other reckless behaviour on ice. Of course, that’s not the case, but what’s amazing is how widespread are the harmful actions.
For instance, last year saw a record number of suspensions. Eleven players from seven counties were handed a total of 21 games, the most egregious going to France’s Sasha Treille for a vicious elbow in open ice. In 2011, there was but one suspension, to Latvia’s Arturs Kulda, for a head hit. In 2010, there were five suspensions to three countries, and in 2009 five to four countries.
Across the board the top teams (Canada, Russia, Sweden, Finland, Czech, Slovakia) have all had players suspended in the last few years, just as all of the lower teams have as well (Switzerland, Latvia, Norway, Germany, etc). No team is more or less guilty than any other.
Marouelli’s only concern is player safety and executing the IIHF’s mandate to that end. He can’t – and doesn’t – worry about anything else. He’s too professional and has too much integrity for that.