Not infrequently, they become the main actors in a game, although their work would be called ideal when they are actually practically unnoticeable on the rink. Referees. If more than three points are riding on the game, then much, if not everything, depends upon them. One decision, whether correct or not, can change the course of any face-off and become the main event of the game. On the eve of the tenth anniversary Gazprom Neft Cup, Mikhail Kapralov, head of the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) Referee Department, addressed tournament participants:
“The Gazprom Neft Cup is an important tournament for all participants, including for the referees who will be judging the competition games. The atmosphere of this big event means emotions are running high, so the judge must be paying close attention to the hockey players. And so working on these games between young athletes is a job fraught with responsibility and requiring a delicate approach, since children’s hockey has quite a lot of nuances. At such serious competitions as the Gazprom Neft Cup, the young hockey players are reinforcing what will be their lasting hockey values for life — respect for the referee and for opponents, the spirit of camaraderie, striving to play beautifully, and to win honourably! I would add that it is very important for us that local referees work in the West and East groups. This helps them develop, and helps us, in the long-term, to get more highly-qualified judges for the KHL. In this sense, we have a great partnership — we help the tournament, and the tournament helps us!”
The upcoming Gazprom Neft Cup will be judged by qualified referees who have experience with large professional competitions. In an interview to us, KHL referees Ivan Zibinin (West Group) and Evgeny Petrov (East Group) spoke about their experience working at the adult’s and children’s games, as well as their preparations for the anniversary Gazprom Neft Cup International Tournament.
Are there any differences in how a hockey referee works in professional games versus children’s teams?
Ivan Zibinin: Children’s competitions are much harder to judge than adult’s competitions, because it’s not always clear what little kids are thinking. Grown athletes already understand what hockey is all about. So the responsibility in judging games at children’s tournaments is a lot higher for the referee.
Evgeny Petrov: I think that there’s not a lot of difference. Of course, there are certain specific aspects. Children’s games have a lot of unpredictability due to players’ inexperience. With experienced players it’s a bit simpler, but there are still many nuances.
How hockey players prepare themselves before games is already well-known, as there are open practices, photos, videos. But what do referees do, how do they spend time before the games?
Ivan Zibinin: Before a game, each referee will always warm up, so he doesn’t pull or tear a muscle. After that we have a chat with the other judges who will be working on the game. We decide who will be responsible for what in the judging team, we divide up the responsibilities on the ice. We also study the teams we’ll be judging, working out which players we need to follow most closely. Of course, this mostly applies to games between professional teams, but even among the children over the course of the tournament we can work out a couple of players on each team to whom we need to pay attention.
Evgeny Petrov: Our theoretical preparation takes place immediately before the game. And in the breaks in between games we do physical training and recovery. If time allows, then we will definitely study the teams that we’ll be judging. We’re also constantly in contact with the other referees, sharing experiences.
What special might you find or see at the Gazprom Neft Cup, from the point of view of a referee?
Ivan Zibinin: This will be my first time working at the Gazprom Neft Cup. But I’ve already judged at many international children’s tournaments, the Russian finals, the Four Nations Cup for young teams. For referees, there isn’t a big difference between the various competitions we judge. Our main task is to come to each game and do our job professionally.
Evgeny Petrov: For me, this tournament is already far from my first. Since the Gazprom Neft Cup has been held in Omsk, I have worked at all the tournaments: first, as a linesman, and for the past three years, as the chief referee. The specific feature of such big tournaments for everyone is the contact with so many new people. In terms of work, here everything is organised at the highest level, so all that we need to do is get out on the ice and judge, without thinking about anything else.
At children’s tournaments, does the referee generally need to intervene in the game quite frequently, or can you ‘let slide’ insignificant instances so that you’re not blowing your whistle all the time?
Ivan Zibinin: If you blow your whistle for one side, and for the other you let a similar infraction slide, then that would be wrong. There has to be an identical approach to both teams. The referee’s decisions must be impartial, and then the opponents will be on an even playing field. In games between children under the age of 12, body checking is not allowed. So you have to teach the children to play clean hockey from the beginning, so that they don’t hurt each other.
Evgeny Petrov: One of the main features of an experienced referee is the wisdom to not intervene in the game more than required, to avoid unnecessary whistles and stoppages. At children’s tournaments this is especially relevant, because the guys don’t always have enough skill to carry out extreme infractions. A child might fall down, an opponent might trip over him, but I don’t think that’s worth punishing.
With whom do you most often have to talk during children’s tournaments — the players or the coaches?
Ivan Zibinin: At children’s tournaments, I talk more with the coaches. If we need to explain a decision, then we talk to the team’s coach. It’s pointless trying to explain something directly to little kids because in any case they’ll just listen to their coach.
Evgeny Petrov: At children’s tournaments, the kids need to get as much knowledge as they can, and the coaches and referees need to get them used to discipline from a young age. This is the main specific thing about these games. If there is a case of unusual behaviour on the ice, then you need to act as a teacher. We still deal mostly with the players. As a rule, you explain the situation to them right there, in literally two words.
What would you like to wish both the participants and the tournament itself for this 10th anniversary Gazprom Neft Cup?
Ivan Zibinin: I would like to wish the children good development of their hockey skills, so that they can become true professionals in the future, and that Gazprom Neft Cup can stay forever in their memories. This tournament is an international one, and the children will see teams from other countries, and gain new experience. This is Gazprom Neft Cup’s first big anniversary! I’d like to wish the tournament a long future and that it may bring only happiness!
Evgeny Petrov: I would like to wish all the participants great success in sports! Enjoy the Gazprom Neft Cup and get as much new experience as you can! I wish everyone good health, few injuries, and lots of success!