CIS officiating still a problem

At the 2007 women’s hockey national championship, Rick Osborne and Howie Draper received a disciplinary message from Hockey Canada after speaking out about the tournament’s sub-par officiating.

And here we are four years later and the Laurier and Alberta head coaches, along with all the rest of the coaches and players in the tournament, are still dealing with the same problem. This past weekend’s Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) women’s hockey championship was marred by officiating that was certainly not biased, but was just downright bad.

Missed call after missed call. Phantom penalty after phantom penalty. The refs in every game of the tournament seemed to lose control and ultimately be unable to call a consistent game.

Normally I’m a firm believer that complaining about which penalties are and aren’t called should be left to fans looking for a cop-out excuse for their team’s play, and rarely signal any real problem. But when the officials start missing clear goals that alter the entire shape of the tournament, then it’s pretty clear: there’s a problem.

That is exactly what happened in Saturday night’s St. F.X. versus Manitoba game, a match-up that decided the fates of all three teams in Pool B, the other being Laurier.

With her team already up 1-0, Manitoba forward Tammy Brade put a shot over St. F.X. goalie Kristy Garrow’s glove, only to have it come flying back out of the net. But one thing was missing: The unmistakable sound of a puck hitting the cross-bar. The puck had actually hit the padded bar in the middle of the net and came back out.

But referee Christine Pellerin, who was in near perfect position, waved the goal off, and with the CIS not having video review, play continued and Manitoba never got the goal. St. F.X. went on to win 4-3, putting themselves in the gold medal game, which meant that Laurier (who lost to St. F.X., but beat Manitoba) had to play for bronze.

Even in Laurier’s loss to St. F.X., the referees played a much larger role than they should have. With the teams tied at two, Laurier was assessed a delay of game penalty that no one could quite figure out to put St. F.X. on a five-on-three. The X-Women would score and go on to win the game.

Unlike in 2007, the coaches and players are trying to say all the right things when it comes the officials, however, the frustration is clear.

“The officiating at nationals reminds me of Groundhog Day. I wake up every year and start over again,” said Osborne. “But I’m not going to knock on the officials, I think we still have to look from within, there were opportunities [in the bronze medal game versus Queen’s] and there were opportunities in the St. F.X. game.”

That same frustration was evident in Laurier forward Vanessa Schabkar’s reluctance to discuss the phantom penalty that put her team down two players during the game versus St. F.X.

“I don’t want to go against the refs, but you’ve got three of their players on ours, who’s bent over,” she said.

Beyond the missed Manitoba goal and the questionable call for Laurier, the officiating affected every team at the tournament. From McGill’s Gillian Ferrari running a Queen’s player into the boards from behind and not getting called to the refs calling three penalties in the final 1:30 of a 1-0 game in the Laurier versus Queen’s bronze medal game to the seemingly endless parade of players to the box for, we���ll say questionable, reasons.

These teams work all year to get to nationals, and represent the best the country has to offer.

Shouldn’t the refereeing be the same? It’s unfair that officiating can have such an effect on the outcome of a tournament that is supposed to be the pinnacle of CIS women’s hockey.