Official (ice hockey)

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American Hockey League (now NHL) referee Dean Morton Referee hockey ahl 2004.jpg
American Hockey League (now NHL) referee Dean Morton

In ice hockey, an official is a person who has some responsibility in enforcing the rules and maintaining the order of the game. There are two categories of officials, on-ice officials, who are the referees and linesmen that enforce the rules during game play, and off-ice officials, who have an administrative role rather than an enforcement role.


On-ice officials

An official about to drop the puck during a faceoff. Air Force & Alaska - Fairbanks hockey faceoff.JPG
An official about to drop the puck during a faceoff.

As the name implies, on-ice officials do their job on the hockey rink. They are traditionally clad in a black hockey helmet, black trousers, and a black-and-white vertically striped shirt. They wear standard hockey skates and carry a finger whistle, which they use to stop play. They communicate with players, coaches, off-ice officials, both verbally and via hand signals. Starting in 1955 with the introduction of the black-and-white jersey, NHL on-ice officials wore numbers on their back for identification. [1] In 1977, NHL officials removed the number and had only their surnames on the back of their jerseys for identification, normally in a single row across the shoulders. (Some officials with long names would have their name in two rows, the most notable example being Andy Van Hellemond. [2] ) However, in 1994, NHL officials returned to wearing solely numbers on their shirts, a procedure adopted by other sports leagues.

In the early days of hockey when the NHL was formed (1917), the referees would be clad in a vest and tie along with their pants and carry a bell, not a whistle, to stop the game in progress. In those days, penalties were assessed more on common sense rather than following strict rules, and the official would deem what was allowed and not, as well as the length of the penalties.

Later, NHL referees wore cream-colored sweaters over a shirt and tie, from the 1930s to the early 1950s. They then briefly wore orange sweaters with half-zip fronts (and without neckties), until the black-and-white-striped jersey was introduced in 1955. [1]


A referee is responsible for the general supervision of the game and can be identified by the red or orange armbands. Under most officiating systems, the referee is the only official with the authority to assess penalties for violations of the rules. However, the linesmen can report a variety of penalties, such as Too many men on the ice and major penalties, to the referee, who may then assess the penalty. The referee also conducts the opening face-off in each period and face-offs that follow after a goal is scored, which are done at the centre ice face-off dot.


Linesmen are primarily responsible for watching for violations involving the centre line and the blue line. Such infractions include icing and offside, after which the linesmen conduct faceoffs. They are also expected to break up scuffles, fistfights and other altercations that occur during the game. In some leagues, the rules allow linesmen to call some penalties (such as Too many men on the ice), while others only allow them to report the infraction to the referee. [3]

Assistant referees

In some leagues, the linesmen are given the title of assistant referee. When given this title, they are given more responsibility to stop play and to call penalties that the referee may not see. The NCAA previously used this designation prior to altering its officiating systems in 2006.

On-ice officiating systems

These officials are working in a four-official system; the two middle officials are the referees, identifiable by their orange armbands Montreal - Burlington 3 decembre 2011 021.jpg
These officials are working in a four-official system; the two middle officials are the referees, identifiable by their orange armbands

Off-ice officials

Off-ice officials, with the exception of the video goal judge in professional leagues, do not have any direct impact on the outcome of the game. They serve primarily administrative and advisory roles.

Goal judge

The goal judge determines whether a player has scored a goal by watching to see if the puck has crossed the goal line completely. They act only in an advisory role; the referee has the sole authority to award goals, and thus can override the opinion of the goal judge.

One goal judge is positioned outside the rink directly behind each goal net. For arenas so equipped, the goal judge turns on a red light behind the goal to signal a score. The red goal light, and the adjacent green light are connected to the arena game clock. When the clock operator stops the clock, or the time remaining expires, the red light is not able to be activated. In the NHL, the green light is activated only when the game clock reads 00.0 seconds: in lower levels the green light may be linked to the scoreboard's siren or turn on whenever time is stopped.

In games governed by the IIHF, goal judges wear the same black-and-white striped shirts as on-ice officials. [8] This is not the case for goal judges in North America for games under different hockey codes: their goal judges are usually dressed in apparel bearing a league or hockey association logo, such as sport coats or athletic jackets.

In the mid 2000s, the National Hockey League relocated goal judges to higher locations (most commonly the press box, a catwalk or the lower section of the upper deck) with wireless signals. The idea was to allow teams to sell the prime seats, but also to give officials a better view of the action as to be able to reject goals if violations (illegally kicked in, player in the crease, offside) took place. However, with the expansion of video replay and the addition of a second referee on the ice, the role of the goal judge became relegated to activating the goal lights. The league ceased using goal judges after the 2018–2019 season. The video goal judge now activates the goal lights from the video replay booth. [9]

Goal judges were first used around 1877 in Montreal, and were initially called umpires. [10]

Video goal judge

The video goal judge reviews replays of disputed goals. As the referee does not have access to television monitors, the video goal judge's decision in disputed goals is taken as final. In the NHL, goals may only be reviewed in the following situations: puck crossing the goal line completely and before time expired, puck in the net prior to goal frame being dislodged, puck being directed into the net by hand or foot, puck deflected into the net off an official, and puck deflected into the goal by a high stick (stick above the goal) by an attacking player. All NHL goals are subject to review, and although most arenas have a video goal judge, officials from the NHL Hockey Operations Department, located in the Situation Room (also known as the "War Room") at the NHL office in Toronto, will often make the final decision. Arena video goal judges are used in case the communication link with Toronto is not working, and also for other situations such as timing or proper statistic attribution.

Official scorer

The official scorer keeps the official record of the game. He is responsible for obtaining a list of eligible players from both teams prior to the start of the game. He awards points for goals and assists, and his decision in this regard is final. The official scorer typically sits in an elevated position away from the edge of the rink.

Penalty timekeeper

The penalty timekeeper records the penalties imposed by the referee. He is responsible for ensuring that the correct penalty times are posted on the score clock and that players leave the penalty box at the appropriate times.

Game timekeeper

The game timekeeper is responsible for stopping and starting the game clock.


The statistician records all required data concerning individual and team performances.

See also

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  5. Olympic Format decided Archived February 15, 2010, at the Wayback Machine
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Positions on the hockey rink
Forwards: Hockey Rink.svg Left wing | Centre | Right wing
Defencemen: Left defenceman | Right defenceman
Goaltender: Goaltender
Power forward | Enforcer | Grinder | Pest | Two-way forward | Stay-at-home defenceman | Rover | Captain | Head coach | Referees and linesmen