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Officially Speaking: Beer leagues

07/20/2018, 10:00am CDT
By Mark Lichtenfeld

It’s time for an intellectual discussion about adult hockey leagues.

As the hockey community is currently suffering through the eye of the offseason, there really isn’t much news to disseminate to OS’s faithful readers, which makes this the perfect time to cover the important question that absolutely needs to be asked throughout the United States. 

You know, the honest discussion that we Americans have been avoiding for decades.

It’s time for an intellectual discussion about beer leagues.

“What?” you holler in collective unison. “That’s all your column ever covers.”

No, no. It’s time to dig deeper. The way only OS can do.

Look, last month I was in the middle of a referees’ meeting and the prevailing topic wasn’t rules, ice conditions or even payment. 

As always, the overarching concern was men’s league.

Guess what? OS is sick of it. Seriously. It’s time to move on. Like we tell coaches and parents. Quit complaining. 

Yes, this means all of you – OS’s faithful readers and veteran Level 3 comrades throughout the land. 

The fact is, beer league is beer league. You don’t want guys berating you? Don’t do beer league. 

You don’t want midnight drunkards on ice? Avoid adult league.

No one is forcing us to do butcher league. But the fact is, there is always a healthy contingent that will go out there and do the games. And that’s crucial. Because in fact, adult league represents a substantial cut of all USA Hockey teams and games played. Adult league is part and parcel of the growth of hockey in the country. 

“You’re selling us out, OS!”

No, I’m helping you.

Look, I get that adult league often includes goons, lumberjacks and many times, the absolute worst of society.

But we can manipulate that to our advantage. All it takes is the right attitude. The correct sense of humor.

When I do hatchet league, I often perceive it as a contest of wills. Half of these guys are literally out there not to score a goal, but rather, to score debate points by trying to one-up the official. 

To combat this, the referee needs to utilize knowledge of the rules, argumentative methodology and the power of the crest.

Meaning, set the guy up for debating failure, then have a laugh, and if the jerk still won’t let go, give him the Rule 601 progression. 

Let me give you some examples of what always works well for OS.

Situation 1. Canadian men’s tournament. Drunk guy from Saskatchewan runs his trap because official waves off alleged goal that hits bottom of cross bar and shoots back out to the slot.

“You guys are brutal,” jaws the gapped-tooth hoser, 

“Maybe, but no one travels out here for the officiating,” I respond.

The guy hesitates, sounds off a semi-chuckle and the situation is completely resolved. And I didn’t even have to remind him that the same scenario happened two weeks earlier in a Golden Knights game when the play continued for 20 seconds before Toronto shut it down and ordered a goal via satellite-assisted replay. Sorry, adult-league refs don’t have those niceties. 

Situation 2. Local butcher “B” league. Same guy always complains. An absolute jerk. This time, he bellyaches over a holding penalty.

“You always make the wrong call,” he jaws, loping toward the penalty box.

“Yeah, but I’m consistent,” I retort. 

The guy literally smiles. “I’ll give you that,” he says. 

I swear, I’ve never had a problem with this individual for the past three months. 

Think utilizing humor is wrong? Then check out page 36 of the USA Hockey ADVANCED officiating manual: “Injecting humor into a contest correctly can be an effective communication skill. Many experienced officials have mastered this skill and enhanced their acceptability.”

Attitude. Patience. Psychological skills. That’s how to negotiate beer league and have fun doing it too. And that’s where veteran officiating skills come into play. Experience is paramount.

So referees everywhere, let’s stop complaining about men’s league. We know what we’re in for and no one forces us to do it. But rest assured, we make the right calls. And when things get dicey, OS is always here to expose the insanity.

Yup, us veteran Level 3s make excellent calls. But here’s the worst call ever observed by OS:

Game 1 of the 2018 Stanley Cup Final. Las Vegas player cross-checks a Capitals defender in the back, right in front of the crease. The Knights forward then receives a pass and scores unimpeded while Capitals guy is down. And no one calls it. 

How is it even possible that two professional referees earning over 5-digits combined for one game, miss a brutal cross-check in the slot which subsequently results in a game-changing goal in the Stanley Cup Final? Performances like this in front of a national television audience give all of us veteran officials a bad rap. When beer league guys and low-level JV coaches witness such alleged incompetence, it’s quickly guilt by association for all of us USA Hockey officials. 

Amateur referees across the country: In a two-official system, remember that in normal situations, the back official watches the front of the net, NOT THE PLAY. (See page 27, USA Hockey BASIC Officiating Manual).

Back to our honest discussion about adult leagues. Listen here, all of us veteran Level 3s. Beer league is what it is. Yup, it makes great fodder for this column. But let’s stop wasting time complaining about it. And more importantly, if you elect to do these games, adjust your attitude and utilize your experience to make the best of what often becomes an untenable late night experience.


Questions and comments can be sent to, via Twitter @OSpeaking or through the Let’s Play Hockey Facebook page.

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Tag(s): State Of Hockey  News  Officially Speaking