VIERUMÄKI – Wherever hockey is played, there are referees. The Vierumäki camp is no exception. The game officials’ program takes advantage of the High Performance and Hockey Development camps to give selected officiating prospects a chance to fine-tune their skills and prepare them for future IIHF assignments.
The linesmen have been selected by the IIHF Officiating Committee based on applications submitted by National Associations. The referee program will identify the candidates ready for inclusion in the top group of referees for future assignments and serves to increase the number of game officials in the IIHF pool.
“To be a part of this program is a fantastic opportunity for me. I’m looking for ways to get better, and besides, hockey is about the only thing I want to do anyway,” says Anna Hammar, 17, who’s starting her seventh season as a linesman - yes, she started as an 11-year-old -, who plays hockey on a boys’ team, and who also coaches juniors at home in Sweden.
In Vierumäki, the 18 linesmen and 12 referees have been working on their skating, physical fitness, and game management under the guidance of Dave Smith, who also monitors the health and wellness of the NHL’s on-ice officials as well as NHL prospects in the minor leagues.
“I only work with them from the neck down. After they make they call, it’s all about the referee’s judgment, and I can’t argue with that. However, I can help them with how they get to the position on the eyes, how they move. Maybe she’d made a better call had she been at a better spot on the ice,” Smith says.
“If we can improve their skating proficiency so that skating becomes a non-though process, they can focus more on the officiating. And if we can improve their fitness level so that they have the stamina and the functional strength to do what they need to do, they’ll be better referees,” he adds.
Smith says that the goal is to isolate the areas that a referee can control and work on them.
"When we go out on the ice, we can’t control the game, we simply respond," he says.
Miyuki Nakayama was a linesman at the Vancouver Olympics, but she has since switched, and is now in Vierumäki as a referee. Understanding the importance of physical fitness is one thing she’ll bring home to Tokyo with her.
“If I don’t have the energy, I can’t focus and I’ll probably miss penalties and other things as well. The most important thing I’ve learned here is the importance of physical condition,” she says.
“The off-ice practices have been really valuable and what I need. I have good teachers for rules and game management at home, but what I don’t have is an awesome physical coach like Dave,” says Hammar.
The game officials have had a tough schedule at the camp, most often hitting the ice at seven in the morning, to go through the skating drills that Smith has set up for them. The work focuses on improving posture, working in a small space, and moving faster.
And then there are the off-ice lectures.
“There’s only so much we can do here so that the participants won’t break down. We’ve been doing things you can use anywhere and that are easy to do. Each one of the exercises can be done with just body weight or with more resistance. They’re same things I’m doing with my NHL guys,” says Smith.
“I can see now that we’re going down a little, but on Saturday, the last day, we’ll go hard,” he adds, with a smile.
The referees and linesmen at the camp are the pool from which the IIHF and the national federations will draw from in the future when assigning officials to international events. And the bigger the pool, the better the game.
“Having more female referees is going to be good for the game. It’ll also help former players to stay in the game, which is like what we did in the NHL. Players have the hockey sense, they have the lingo, but they have to understand that there’s a difference between friendship and respect,” Smith says.
“I think it’s really important to have good female referees and linesmen in women’s hockey. The game itself has come a long way, now it’s time for the officials, or it’ll never fully become the girls’ sport,” adds Hammar.