Swiss referee Didier Massy and his linesmen will never forget their experience in the desert where they officiated games in Kuwait. Neither will Nicolas Fluri, who called two matches in the South African league. The officials, who all have participated in the IIHF World Championship program, share their experiences.
A body-check from a Thai player against an Indian opponent in front of sheikhs following the puck in their emirate? A penalty call against a South African forward at a rink in Cape Town? This footage, that might be looking so surreal to many fans, was witnessed during the off-season by Swiss officials who won’t forget their experiences that quickly.
Didier Massy, a 48-year-old player-turned-referee, accompanied by linesmen Daniel Zosso and Peter Küng, remembers his experience after domestic league play was over and they left for the IIHF Challenge Cup of Asia in Kuwait.
“It was something unbelievable. It was a life-enhancing experience,” remembers Massy, who represented Switzerland in two World Championships as a player and recently joined the IIHF Referee Exchange Program among European leagues.
Welcomed almost like a royalty, Massy did not only find himself in a splendid five-star hotel in a country with remarkable sandstorms where a litre of petrol costs 15 cents. In the Middle East he saw folkloric elements surrounding the tournament and women dressed in burkas who tried hard to skate on the ice.
Amidst the adventure, he noticed great respect from the players and staff and their enormous pleasure to participate in this event and have their games officiated by professional referees.
“Hong Kong, the United Arab Emirates and Thailand, who had certain players who studied in Canada, had the best teams. They played at a level comparable with an average third-tier team in Switzerland,” says Massy. “And the Indians, who practise at an ice surface at an altitude of 3,000 metres, might have the talent of a team in the sixth- or seventh-tier league.”
Massy tells this anecdote about the Indians during a game at the magnificent 1,000-seat arena.
“The Indians lost a match to Kuwait 39-2, but it was wonderful to see the joy of the Indian player [Mohamed Igbal] after scoring his second goal when he was kissing the ice like the Pope does when descending his airplane. It was the first time his country scored two goals in an official game. Seeing such a spectacle in the middle of the desert, where there is not necessarily an established winter sports culture, is something entirely special.”
Didier Massy well remembers the Kuwait-India game where both sides shared happiness in the host's 39-2 win. Photo: Majdy El Dakroury
In Kuwait, Massy had a tough schedule with five games in six days.
“We were treated to delicious juices and unbelievably tasty tea, but I have to admit that sometimes I missed the post-game beer,” Massy says while explaining the realities of being on an assignment in a Muslim country.
Nicolas Fluri’s course
While the above trio went to Kuwait, one of their Swiss colleagues, Nicolas Fluri, went southwards during the off-season to be part of another uncommon adventure in the very south of the African continent.
He left his native Moutier, Switzerland for almost three months in summer to attend a course in legal English.
“I have a cousin who lives in a gorgeous house close to the beach in Cape Town,” the 26-year-old linesman says. “As I was aware that hockey is played in South Africa. I asked Freddy Reichen [the Referee Chief Instructor of the Swiss Ice Hockey Federation] if it would be possible to get in touch with the South African Ice Hockey Association. And I got an e-mail very quickly that stated I was welcome.”
It was late during his trip, after he was handed his English diploma, that the Swiss eventually entered a South African ice rink.
“It was a casino with a nice arena of 1,500 seats,” says Fluri, who was invited by the President of the association to officiate two games. “The level could be compared to the fourth tier of Swiss ice hockey,” estimates Fluri, who once played at that level before becoming a linesman.
In South Africa, Fluri also gave lessons for two hours to a young and interested group of officials.
“There were many good questions from a very diverse attendance,” he says.
On the ice the Penguins met the Sharks. “I found a spirit like in our amateur leagues with players who don’t make money, but who invest time and membership fees to keep the game going,” Fluri explains. “Mainly it’s the white upper class who has the means to practise the sport. But there were many participants each evening who knew how to skate.”
For refs Massy and Fluri these were adventures which they will never forget.
This translated story is published with the kind permission of Swiss newspaper Le Matin.