High school hockey ref Dan Walt faces controversies over new, tougher penalties.
Hockey referee Dan Walt braced for the complaints as soon as the whistle blew.
Tweeeet! Blue! Boarding, his partner called, signaling the foul by punching a fist into an open hand.
With a high school conference championship on the line, the player headed to the penalty box for a full five minutes as his coach screamed in protest. Such big penalties are potential game-changers and, like many high school referees, Walt wanted the players -- not a penalty -- to determine who would win.
Under the old penalties for checking from behind, boarding or head contact, the offending team would have been short a player for up to two minutes or until the opposing team scored, at a minimum. Since Jack's injury, the team is short a player for a full five minutes.
"It put us in a difficult position," Walt said, noting some fouls are more egregious than others. "It felt like the punishment didn't fit the crime."
Safety needed to be re-examined after Jack's injury, Walt agreed. But there is still controversy about whether increased penalties are the right way to achieve it.
At first, coaches, players and parents responded well to the new rules, Walt and others said. But once those calls affected playoff games, they weren't as gracious.
At a State High School League meeting, Walt asked what referees should do in certain cases: What if a player spins right before getting checked, trying to draw a major penalty? Or what if a player ducks and get his head knocked?
Bill Kronschnabel, the state rules coordinator for hockey, cautioned referees against calling head contact when players purposely duck. But players making checks have to skate in control.
"It’s just like what kids learn in drivers’ training,” Kronschnabel said. “Somebody stops right in front of them … they’re responsible and they’re liable for the accident."
Always err on the side of safety, league officials said. With consistent calls, coaches and players will adjust.
Walt knows that this season, with Jack's injury fading from people's minds, he'll have to brace for more controversy.
"That's some of the gray area that we're sorting out right now," he said. "How do you handle those kinds of calls?"