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Tim Peel represents everything wrong with officiating in hockey

An incident between former NHL ref Tim Peel and two minor hockey officials is an example of everything wrong with the profession.

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Montreal Canadiens v Buffalo Sabres Photo by Dave Sandford/Getty Images

A stunning report from Sean Gentille of The Athletic came out on Friday evening, telling the story of former NHL referee Tim Peel’s behaviour at a minor hockey game in St. Louis. Peel’s son was involved in a game between the St. Louis Knights, and the St. Louis Sting, and apparently the former NHL referee took issue with some of the officiating in said game.

I don’t want to borrow too liberally from Gentille’s piece, and I’d recommend everyone give that a read to get the full story. In short, Peel followed the two 17-year-old officials into their dressing room to express his discontent with their performance. It was a game involving mostly 10-year-old players, which is important to keep in mind here for context.

Peel proceeded to berate the two officials for around 20 minutes, questioning them about their calls in the game, and threatening their jobs, all while invoking his status as a former NHL official to intimidate them. This is patently ridiculous behaviour from someone old and experienced enough to know better.

Apparently, it isn’t the first such incident. This is but the latest, and the most pronounced event with Peel rocking up to his 10-year-old’s hockey games and looking to big-time young officials trying to make a buck. Part of his retirement hobbies, aside from being a wannabe NHL insider and game-management denier on Twitter, has been causing trouble for minor hockey officials. He’s earned a reputation in the St. Louis area, so much so that the two young officials knew he was on his way, and unsuccessfully tried to stop him from getting into their dressing room.

For those unfamiliar with Peel, he was a long tenured — and controversial — NHL official who was drummed out of the league after being caught vocalizing his intent to conduct some “game management” on a hot mic. Ask almost any hockey fan about Peel, and you’re likely to hear a story about him ruining a game they were trying to enjoy. He was notoriously bad at his job, yet was paid far more handsomely than the officials he was berating.

Even if he was the best official to ever step foot on NHL ice, there is no excuse for using your former career as a badge with which to intimidate young refs. This incident represents everything wrong with officiating in hockey; a former professional pretending he’s above reproach, and acting like a complete buffoon at a game where children are supposed to be having fun.

Officiating tends to be a bit of an old boy’s club. Getting ahead is difficult, and getting to the pinnacle of hockey as Peel did is a massive hill to climb. Dealing with the politics of being an official is hard enough, but you also have to deal with overbearing parents who are all over you at every turn. An overbearing parent who just so happens to be a former NHL official is a new level of castigation.

I’m a little close to this issue, as I spent nearly 10 years officiating minor and Junior hockey. I’ve had parents follow me to the room over calls they disagree with, nearly come to blows with some of those parents. The toxicity I experienced simply trying to earn some extra money drove me right out of the role. The compensation just isn’t worth being assaulted, or catching an assault charge in the process of defending yourself.

That toxicity is most pronounced at some of the youngest levels of hockey, which spells disaster for the future of the officiating profession. Young officials leave the role in droves every year, many due to situations exactly like the one Peel forced on those two teenagers. If this continues, we may hit a critical point where minor leagues won’t be able to find officials to make their games possible.

You hear a lot about problems with hockey culture, and issues with how officials are treated in grassroots hockey are absolutely an example of that. Too often, parents tend to live vicariously through their pre-teen children, and engage in embarrassing levels of harassment toward officials who are neither paid nor supported enough to tolerate it.

A parent who remembers being on the other side of those interactions should be able to empathize, and even explain to other parents what it’s like to officiate a game. Being a former professional, and storming into a dressing room to confront the officials, serves only to embolden other parents who would do the same. It perpetuates the toxicity that drives countless officials out of the game every year. There is no excuse for this behaviour from anyone, but it is even more reprehensible when it’s coming from someone who has been at the highest level of the sport.

I’ve officiated games in which former NHL players were coaching, or had children involved in the game. I’ve found them incredibly respectful for the most part, which is why it is beyond appalling to me that Tim Peel would act as he has. He should be trying to act as a leader and influencing a positive change in the culture of hockey parents.

Moreover, and I say this from personal experience, he should know that the worst part for an official isn’t being yelled at by a parent. The worst part is seeing the look of pure embarrassment on their kid’s face on the way out of the arena.

Minor officials don’t make six-figure salaries; they’re there for the love of the game. Parents need to stop stealing that love from them, because they’re also stealing it from their own kids who witness such actions.