Q&A with Dir. of Officials Dan Schachte
by Mike McMahon/Staff Writer
Dan Schachte finished a 30-year career in the National Hockey League last season, where he skated as a linesman dating back to 1982. This season, he’s stepped off the ice and into the role as Hockey East’s Coordinator of Officials.
After 2,009 NHL regular-season games and 221 Stanley Cup playoff games, Schachte spoke with College Hockey News last week on a number of topics, including some changes he’s made since coming on board as well as intricacies of officiating that spans all conferences. Other topics include the use of video as a teaching tool for officials as well as how officials in Hockey East are evaluated.
Mike McMahon: How has the transition been from being an on-ice official for so long to now being in the director’s role, looking at the performance of officials and instead of actually being one yourself?
Dan Schachte: I knew when I did my last game (in the NHL) that I squeezed out every ounce I could. I couldn’t have done another minute. Then, this opportunity fell out of the sky and I can say that it’s been nothing but positive things. I’ve changed a lot of things since I’ve come in and I’ve asked our officials to try some new things and every one of them has been on board. There hasn’t been the slightest resistance. They’ve all tried it and they’ve all bettered their games and that’s why they hired me, so it couldn’t be better.
MM: What were some of those changes you have made or helped work with officials on making in their games?
Schachte: Positioning. That’s been the biggest one. We’ve talked a lot with our officials about getting in position to get the best sightline. I asked them to be cognizant in terms of being in front of the play looking in. For instance, if you’re the back referee, you have to be focused on late people coming into the net. We’ve really talked a lot about positioning and areas of responsibility. Even with our linesmen, making sure we’re in position to not only make calls and get them right, but to be in position to be out of the way of the play.
Positioning is an area that I think our crew has really improved on in not even a full season. I’ve seen it in the games I’ve been to and on the video. There’s no question it’s been a strong area of improvement and I think it’s helped us make better calls as well. It definitely has.
MM: Speaking of areas of responsibility, can you explain the two-referee system and what the roles are intended for each official? I think a lot of times, fans in particular will see the back official, the one in the neutral zone, make the call when the official in the zone doesn’t, and a lot of people get frustrated by that. What is the area of responsibility there for each official?
Schachte: As a rule, the low guy when the play is established, the official in the zone, we refer to him as our R1. He’s focused on the puck. He’s trying to get a sightline on the puck carrier or the puck around the goal line. The R2 on the other hand, the official who is often away from the play, he’s looking for everything else. He can see the entire zone, almost like a fan can in the stands. He’s looking for things that might be happening around the net if the play is in the corner or maybe a trailer who is coming in late. The reason you see him make a lot of calls is that’s the way the system is designed. He has perspective of the entire zone.
When you’re puck focused, as the R1 is, the play is coming at you. That’s what is happening with the R1. While all that is happening, there are players who are around you trying to get into the play, maybe the official is trying to get out of the way as well, and then let’s say all of a sudden an attacker comes to the net and there’s a penalty, you might not see it. If you’re by yourself in that situation, sometimes it’s nothing more than a guess. That’s why we have that guy on the outside. He is responsible for seeing things like that. I know that it often looks like he’s making the call when the guy right in front of the play isn’t, but they’re watching different things. In reality, a lot of times, the R2 can see the play and the R1 can’t.
It’s also teamwork. If the R2 notices that the R1 is stuck or is being chased up the wall to get out of the way of a play, then he needs to be there for his partner and watch. It really is teamwork. The way the game is now, if there was just one person officiating it, it would be impossible. You just can’t. You’d need to be too fast.
MM: Is there a concern, within the context of that system, that you could have a situation where two officials have two different interpretations of the rules or what is or isn’t a penalty? What I mean by that is if two different sets of eyes are watching the play at each end, is there a worry that one team might be able to do something defensively that the opponent might be whistled for?
Schachte: I don’t see that. To be honest, and I’ve tracked our guys with specific calls, and I just don’t see it. When I first started, I noticed there were certain teams of officials that chose to call things that I didn’t think were there, more so penalizing the result instead of the act, but we’ve been better with that. Things like that can get you into trouble if there is a big hit and a guy is laying on the ice and you call a penalty on the defender without knowing what happened. Maybe it was just a play where the puck carrier was too close to the wall. It’s a competitive game and part of our job is to be aware of situations like that. That’s always a concern, but as far as differing on individual calls, I don’t see a lot of that from guy to guy.
In Hockey East, one of the things I have tried to change, and our guys have done a great with with it, is when there are scrums around the net, I don’t want to see coinciding penalties there. I want to see us take the player that started it. Coinciding the penalties doesn’t accomplish anything. If we see the guy who clearly started it, then give him the penalty, put his team on the penalty kill and that’s the last time he does it. Our officials have really bought into that concept and it’s been great and I’m really pleased with it.
Coinciding penalties are nothing more than threats, and threats don’t work well. There has to be a consequence.
MM: How are officials evaluated nowadays? Are those evaluations used in determining who officiates games like the Hockey East Championship?
Schachte: I’m out in Boston about three weeks per month and I go to as many games as I can while I’m here. But, I also watch every game during the course of the week. Every game and every official. We have a neat program called Easy Exchange, where the teams upload the game film and I can really easily download and watch all of our games. Not only that though, I can edit it and clip them and draw lines on the screen, draw circles and highlight things, and then send the clips to our guys.
Video is a powerful teaching tool. I know it helped my career immensely and it’s a big plus for our guys. There is a lot of things you see on video. So much of officiating is learning to anticipate where the puck will be in 10 seconds, getting out of the way of the play but in the best position to see it. The game is so fast you can’t think it, you have to react to it, and it’s all about visualization. Going back to the teamwork concept, if you know your partner is in peril, get over there and help him. I think if you asked any of our officials about the video they would all say it’s been a huge plus.
MM: I heard a story recently that there was an old league rule that an official could not officiate a game involving his alma matter. But, when you came aboard, that was one of the rules you abolished. Is that true?
Schachte: That’s right.
MM: Why didn’t you think that was necessary any longer?
Schachte: It comes down to this. If you’re an official, and if we’re Hockey East, we’re willing to entrust the integrity of our league in your hands. What difference does it make where you went to school? It shouldn’t. If you can’t put that aside, you shouldn’t be an official in the first place.
It was funny though, because the first set of assignments that came out, my phone nearly exploded. Guys were saying, “I can’t do that game, don’t you know where I went to school?” And I said, “OK, who did you play for when you were there?” And most of the guys named coaches who weren’t there anymore.
I just told them, if it’s OK with you, then it’s OK with me. I haven’t heard anyone make an issue out of it.
MM: More of a general officiating question, but how is it handled when there is a situation like earlier this year, when a prominent coach (Jack Parker) said something to the effect that diving has become an issue with teams and put some blame on the officials for not stopping it?
Schachte: That’s more a question for Joe (Bertagna). From an official’s standpoint, I can tell you that it shouldn’t bother them and it didn’t. Hockey isn’t immune to diving, it’s a competitive game and guys will always look for an advantage.
MM: Nobody ever likes it when diving is called on their team. There are a lot of times when you see it called and you think, that looked like a penalty when, let’s say a guy was tripped and it didn't look to you like embellishment on the guy who was tripped. So what should fans look for to see what the officials are told to look for? I know it could be just a little extra something that gets you a diving call when you legitimately were tripped or whatever. But what is usually happening in most of these cases when the embellishment call is made?
Schachte: Is there a gold standard? I don’t know. Our officials, they’ve all played, I know I’ve been around the game my entire life and when a guy takes a flop, you know. I don’t think Hockey East has any more or any less of it than any other league. It’s in every game, in every league. There is no real way to deal with it other than the penalty.
As for what our guys see when it’s called, like I said, I just think you know.
MM: More of a general officiating question. No doubt some players have reputations. Do you think that can have an influence on a play where, if it’s borderline, you err on the side of caution?
Schachte: There shouldn’t be any influence. I think it goes back to what we were saying earlier, that we noticed sometimes we penalizing the result instead of the action earlier in the season. But I think we’ve done a much better job with that. Honestly, the game happens so fast and we’re making our calls just as fast.
MM: The difference this year in penalties is quite dramatic. Penalties across the league are really way down. I ran numbers and Hockey East has about 24 PIM per game this year total, between the two teams, and that was around 29 PIM last season, I believe. Was that a directive or just something that has happened organically?
Schachte: Frankly, that’s news to me. I obviously wasn’t here last year. You know, that’s a tough one. Like I said, we’ve cut down on the coinciding penalties, but I don’t know if that’s enough to really bring the numbers way down.
MM: This is more of an NCAA question, but now that you’ve seen this league for almost an entire season, and have seen the differences between the NHL and the NCAA, are there rule changes that you think the NCAA should consider?
Schachte: Not really. There are some small differences in the way the college game is played but I think we have a good handle on it. I would change some little housekeeping things, but that’s it. One, for example, would be the delayed penalty rule when it comes to penalty shots. If you call a minor, and the team scores on the delayed penalty, you keep the power play. But if you are going to call a penalty shot, and the guy scores, that’s the end of it. Why wouldn’t there still be a penalty served there after the goal? I think there are just some little things like that we need to clean up.