Life in black & white

When they take the ice, one person in Verizon Center’s upper deck boos. Their names appear momentarily on the scoreboard minutes before faceoff. To most of the fans in attendance, they are merely Nos. 13, 40, 79 and 84.

Nothing NHL referees Dan O’Halloran (13) and Steve Kozari (40) and linesmen Mark Pare (79) and Tony Sericolo (84) do over the next few hours draws attention to themselves. More importantly, nothing warrants a call from their bosses the next morning.

That’s what they prefer.

The Washington Capitals’ game against Pittsburgh last month went seamlessly. No blatantly missed calls. No controversial goals. No brouhahas.

The officials are just glad to be working. Like the players last year, the NHL’s referees and linesmen were locked out. Back on the ice, each full-time official will work more than 70 games and has adjusted to radical rules changes that have quickened the game’s pace.

Even though Pittsburgh and Washington have two of the league’s worst records and the building is half-empty, they approach the game as they will a late-season, playoff-berth-on-the line match — because they’re always being watched. If a supervisor isn’t in attendance, one is watching from the league offices in Toronto and New York. Those evaluations dictate who receives coveted playoff assignments.

This game’s officials vary in experience from 48-year-old Pare, the most-senior linesman in the NHL (27 years, more than 1,800 games) to Kozari, 32, who splits time between the NHL and American Hockey League. O’Halloran, 41, is a 10-year veteran and Sericolo, 37, is in his seventh season.

• • •

Pregame: 1 hour, 23 minutes before faceoff

The crew arrives at the arena around 5:45 p.m. But their preparation began earlier in the day. Three of the officials worked the night before — Kozari in Columbus, Ohio; O’Halloran in Pittsburgh; and Sericolo on Long Island. They get to their Arlington hotel around mid-morning.

A possible point of discussion during lunch is the previous Penguins-Caps game on Feb. 11, which featured several first-period fights. But the officials aren’t overly concerned.

“We’re more game to game,” Sericolo says as he adjusts the laces on his skates. “We don’t really reflect on what happened previously because you can’t ever predetermine what will happen or think what might happen. Will we mention it? Probably. Will it influence us? No.”

Two of 34 NHL linesmen, Sericolo and Pare work together about 10 games a year.

The linesmen are in charge of nearly all the faceoffs — the Penguins-Caps game had 72 — and they call offsides and icing. What they don’t call anymore is the two-line pass, eliminated by the league in an effort to open up the game.

“Physically, it’s a lot more demanding for us because the speed of play has picked up,” Sericolo says. “It’s been unbelievable for hockey.”

Story Continues →

View Entire Story
Comments
blog comments powered by Disqus