Russian referee Vyachelsav Bulanov has one of the most impressive resumes in international officiating. Most recently, he added to his long list of achievements after calling the gold medal game at the World U20 Championship in Ottawa. Below, Bulanov talks about his officiating experiences and the pros and cons of being the man with the whistle on the ice.
You recently officiated the gold medal game in front of 22,000 people. Where does that rank in your experiences as an official?
I divide all of my games into three categories. The top category includes my important and famous games that brought me the most satisfaction. Of course, the gold medal game in Ottawa belongs in this category.
With televised games and video replay, some officials says skating in big events is like 'being in a fish bowl' where every call can be analyzed. Do you prefer the modern TV era, or the old days with no replay?
I prefer when the games are televised. The reviews can see all the good angles, which is better for analysis. Of course, it means that officials have to be very precise. Another interesting side effect of TV is the fact it has made referees more noticeable because our faces are on the screen. Television is also important because it helps make hockey more popular.
Players tend to be affected by large crowds, as an official is it different when you call a game in front of so many fans?
I think referees can't help but have the same feeling as a player. When there is a full house it creates an atmosphere that is much more exciting during a game.
You have called several big games in your career, what were some of the more memorable experiences?
Every referee remembers his first game. I still remember my first game as a linesman 18 years ago and as a referee nine years ago. Other memorable events include the Canada-Switzerland game at the Olympics in Torino. Also the last two years calling the final playoff round in the Russian league stick out in my mind.
Are there any games that you still have on your wish list?
I think creating a wish list is like a dream. We say in Russia that you have to keep your dreams to yourself, you can't let people know what your dreams are. If keep your dreams quiet, they just might come true.
What do you think is the biggest problem facing officiating right now?
The biggest problem is changing to the four-man system. When you are alone, you can direct the game as an individual. When there are two referees, you need to be a team. You have to think the same, move the same and build the game together. It’s not always an easy adjustment.
Many countries have a shortage of officials, what do you think is the best way to get the next generation interested in officiating?
In each country there are different problems in recruiting new officials. In Russia we need to invite more people to become officials, including former players who have retired from junior or senior teams. There also needs to be an active campaign that highlights the positive side of being an official.
What is the difference between calling a game in the KHL and calling an international game?
When you referee in a league, the players and referees know each other very well. There's already an idea of what to expect. At international events, there's not that pre-conceived expectation. Internationally, I think the players respect officials more because they haven’t already formed opinions.
Do you think the four-man system is a positive change?
Absolutely it's positive step. I don't believe in returning back to one referee. Hockey has changed, rules have changed and officiating must go in the same direction.
How has officiating changed since you started your career?
Changes in officiating, basically, were affected by changes in the rules. Now the hockey world (IIHF and NHL) are moving in the same direction. The main idea is that players should to show their skills and abilities, while the lazy play must be eliminated.
Fans can often be pretty hard on referees, if you had one thing to say to such fans, what would it be?
I would say that officials are not your enemy and not the destroyers of hockey. We are here to try to improve quality of hockey.
Are there any good one-liners that you can think of that you heard from a player or fan during a game?
We have one team from the Far East in the KHL. To get this city, Khabarovsk, we fly eight hours one way. It is longest trip, but there's the cheapest red fish caviar. I always buy kilos to bring home and for friends as a gift. Once when I was there, I disallowed a goal for the home team after video review. After that, the ice rink was quiet and one fan shouted: “Ref get the caviar out of your eyes and go look again.” I thought it was pretty clever and funny.