There's an old story about a minor league hockey team owner from the early 1970s who was having an affair with a woman much younger than his wife. Every Friday or Saturday night, he would meet up with his mistress at the same time and the same place.
One particular weekend, the team had a home game that was running unusually long. The ice was patchy and the officiating crew repeatedly had to do some handiwork during stoppages of play (side note: I've got lots of stories about ice repairs, so I'm going to do a blog on that topic pretty soon). There were a lot of goals in the game, and a lot of fights. At one point early in the game, not one but two panes of glass on the boards shattered.
The owner was starting to get nervous. He always stayed until the end of the game but the hour was getting late and he was in danger of missing his, um, appointment on the other side of town.
He went down to the scorer's table and told the timekeeper to shave off as much time as possible from the game clock. Now, it was (and still is in some places) hardly a rare thing in some buildings for time to "mysteriously" be added or disappear from the clock based on the score of the game. In this case, though, two things made it unusual:
1. The home team was losing by one goal in the third period, and the owner was demanding that time be taken off the clock.
2. The owner was a real miser (which made him pretty much the same as lots and lots of minor league and even NHL owners of the time!) and actually pulled money out of his wallet to entice the timekeeper.
"Run the clock," the owner said. "Every stoppage just run it off a few more seconds."
"But your team is losing," said the confused timekeeper.
"Here's $5," the owner said. "Now run the clock and keep your mouth shut."
I have no idea if the owner got to, ahem, stay abreast of the final score or hurried off to play stick-and-puck games of his own with his illicit lady friend that night. At any rate, hockey officials are no strangers to dealing with all sorts of issues related to the game and penalty clock, both of the accidental and accidentally-on-purpose variety.
Over the years, I have pretty much seen it all: clocks running past whistles or not starting after the drop of the puck; penalty time inexplicably added or deleted; a 5-on-3 power play goal scored against the home team where, suddenly, what should have been 90 seconds of remaining 5-on-4 time is timed to wash out the second penalty due to the first penalty being incorrectly "expired" when the goal is scored. I've seen legitimate clock malfunctions countless times.
You name it, I've seen it. Maybe I should do a magazine ad for Rolex or, as Paulie said to Rocky in Rocky III, "All you've ever given me is this lousy, stinkin' Ex-Lax watch!"
At the professional levels, there are regular crews who work the league that oversee operations and the penalty and game clocks. These folks are invaluable to us on-ice officials, and you get to know how different people in different buildings work, because you interact with them so often over the years. Very often, they spot and alert the officials to things that the officials -- and even the coaches -- miss because we are focused on the game action.
However, hockey is a human game and mistakes do happen. Over the years, from my earliest days of watching my grandfather and father officiate clock-based sport, I observed how they handled such situations. My officiating mentors in the minor leagues and NHL were also very astute in picking up on and correcting irregularities with the clock. It's an underrated but important skill for an official to learn, and one that requires good communication skills both with on-ice teammates and off-ice officials.
As a matter of fact, in the years since I retired as an active NHL referee and moved upstairs in evaluating, supervising and coaching officials, assessing the clock and its management -- particularly in buildings that are known for having clock issues -- has become a second-nature facet of what I do. It's not the biggest or most important piece, obviously, but it's part of the bigger puzzle of mental alertness, communications and assertiveness for an on-ice official to stay on top of the game.
Beyond my general overview, if you are interested in some of the minutia of what's involved in clock tracking and enforcement from an on-ice official's standpoint, the NHLOA website has a good overview of how various scenarios should be correctly handled.
Paul Stewart holds the distinction of being the first U.S.-born citizen to make it to the NHL as both a player and referee. On March 15, 2003, he became the first American-born referee to officiate in 1,000 NHL games.
Today, Stewart is the chairman of the officiating and league discipline committee for the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) and serves as director of hockey officiating for the ECAC.
The longtime referee heads Officiating by Stewart, a consulting, training and evaluation service for officials. Stewart also maintains a busy schedule as a public speaker, fund raiser and master-of-ceremonies for a host of private, corporate and public events. As a non-hockey venture, he is the owner of Lest We Forget.
Stewart's writings can also be found on HockeyBuzz.com every Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. He is currently working with a co-author in writing an autobiography.
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