By Mike Armstrong
It has often been asked if hockey officials-referees and linesmen-are born or made. Bill Friday, Referee-in-Chief of the World Hockey Association, thinks it's a combination of both that makes a good official.
“A referee must have good judgement on penalties and I think that's inborn. He has to make quick decisions and he must be right. If he has that, we can teach him the rest,” Friday said.
“I think we have good officials in the WHA-the best available.”
Friday, along with Director of Officials, Bob Frampton, scout various officials' schools during the summer and pick out the best who are then invited to attend the WHA officials' school conducted by Frampton and Friday.
On their scouting missions they look for size and excellent skating ability. “Officials must be good skaters,” emphasized Friday, “and size commands respect from the players. Referees and linesmen must have the respect of the players.”
The ideal referee should work four of five years as a linesman at the major league level and follow that term of experience as a referee in the minor leagues for the same period of time.
“You can't let a man into the major league too quickly. He has to learn by experience to be in command all the time and develop the respect of the players,” said Friday.
If aspiring linesmen have the size and good skating ability, the rest can be taught. Some are brought up from the Ontario Hockey Association and the World Hockey Association is developing its own people.
“We have some good kids coming up,” added Friday.
The Referee-in-Chief feels a 20-year-old has the best chance of making it as an official. “It's a tough job and they have to be dedicated. Our officials are on the road more than the players.”
Once selected by Frampton and Friday, it's off to WHA officials' school . . . and it's not all ice work. They must know the rule book inside out and there are written tests on the rules. The school is tough to complete and not all make it.
The World Hockey Association has an agreement with the North American Hockey League and provides referees for all regular season and playoff games.
“There is no substitute for actual game conditions and the officials gain valuable experience in the NAHL.
“In past years referees or linesmen of the WHA would be given assigments as referees. However, this year, they are either referees or linesmen,” Friday said.
Pressure is the constant companion of the referees and linesmen, whereas, the players' pressure might be 15-20 minutes per game. The officials are under constant pressure for 60 minutes and in some cases, overtime.
“Ron Asselstine, one of the brightest stars in our plans, asked to be relieved of his duties as a referee earlier this season and is now doing line work. Hopefully, Ron will be back next season as a referee, as he has all the ingredients to be a great one,” Friday said.
Assignment of game officials is a big problem. “The problem is to keep everyone happy so that clubs don't see the same referee too many times. All WHA officials have their assignments three weeks in advance and the only changes made are due to illness or injury.”
Friday pointed out that the main ingredient in being a good official is consistency. “Consistency is the main factor. That comes from experience. If you let some things go in a game, you have to let them go all the time. If you call everything, you have to call everything all the time. An official can never let the players get the best of him.”
“Some can quote the book-they know the rules-but you can't teach them how to call penalties. That comes from experience, instinct, inborn, whatever you want to call it. Some have it and some don't.”
The WHA employs six referees, including Friday, and 12 linesmen.
Friday, a veteran of 16 years as a major league referee, is quite proud of the WHA men he works with.
“I'd match our officials with those in any league,” Friday said.