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College Hockey:
The road to the Frozen Four: an officiating crew’s view

— It’s no accident when a team gets to the national championship game. That’s as much true for a team of officials — in this case Hockey East referees Tim Benedetto and Jeff Bunyon and linesmen Chris Aughe and Bob Bernard — as it is for a team of players.

Officials can’t just show up on the first Friday of the season and — voila — the game proceeds like clockwork.

“Just like the players, we’re training all year long,” Bunyon said after the crew worked the title game between Minnesota-Duluth and Michigan. “We’ll put the skates away tonight, but all summer long we’ll work out, run, and stretch, and get ready for the season.

23284400 The road to the Frozen Four: an officiating crews view

The officials in the NCAA title game put in a lot of preparation (photo: Melissa Wade)..

“We’ll do a few games and skate casually over the summer, then once August heats up, really put it in full gear and get ready at a training camp for the whole crew. We approach it just like the teams do. We strive to be here just like them.”

All officials are subject to an ongoing evaluation process that extends through the entire season. They have to excel throughout that process to get to any title games, whether league or national.

“They say you’re only as good as your last call,” Benedetto said. “They don’t remember you for the game itself; they remember you for your last call, whether it was good or bad.

“That’s what we strive toward: Not to be perfect, but to get the call right.”

Since perfection isn’t possible, an official has to learn how to handle the inevitable potholes in the road to the Frozen Four.

“I learned a long time ago that we’re not perfect,” Bernard said. “You might have a bad period or make a tough call. You have to put it behind you and just stay positive and work hard.

“That’s the key. If you work hard, skate hard, and get yourself in good position, then good things will happen.”

Aughe added, “With the criticism, you can use it as a positive and learn from it. Hopefully, you don’t make the same mistake twice and build on it.”

Prior to this year, Hockey East teams had advanced to the national championship game in 13 of the last 14 years. With the NCAA prohibiting officials from working games involving their league’s teams, Hockey East referees and linesmen haven’t been allowed to work almost all recent title games, no matter how high their level of expertise.

In the all-WCHA Frozen Four of 2005, CCHA officials were chosen. Benedetto had already been sidelined with knee surgery, but the others saw their hopes dashed.

“There’s disappointment when you don’t get selected, but everyone’s working hard,” Bunyon said. “There are a lot of great officials across the country. All you can do is control what’s within your circle.

“You work hard and you do your job. If the call comes, fantastic; if not, you truly wish the guys who are doing the game great luck. At some point, hopefully you’ll get your shot.”

For this crew, that shot came in this year’s title game. Emotions ran high when they learned of the assignment.

“I was elated,” Benedetto said. “It’s been a long time. I was a backup in ’95. When you’re a backup, you don’t want anyone to get hurt, but unfortunately someone got hurt and I was inserted into that game.

“To do the national championship game is the pinnacle. It’s what you want to do. When I found out, I was ecstatic.”

As was the rest of the crew. That excitement carried over into lacing up the skates and stepping on the ice.

“Obviously, you’re nervous, but it’s a good nervous,” Aughe said. “Once the game starts and the puck goes down, you try to keep it in perspective. It’s another game.

“You don’t want to get too excited and too amped up, but you realize that all the officials that aren’t working are watching you. It’s really special. It’s the pinnacle of a 10- or 11-year process.”

Ideally, the game would go smoothly without any controversy, as had been the case in the Michigan-North Dakota semifinal for the Hockey East crew of referees Kevin Shea and Scott Hansen along with Aughe and Bernard.

Not this time.

The game wasn’t even five minutes old before the first tough call — a waved-off, after-the-whistle goal — required video review.
“Something always pops up,” Benedetto said. “You usually have a little hiccup, a little anxiety attack, when something like that happens, but it’s old school. We go though it all year. Whether it’s five minutes into the game or a period and a half into the game, it works itself out.”

A raft of penalties drew the ire of fans, and by game’s end, Michigan coach Red Berenson, whose Wolverines came down on the wrong side of a 9-4 penalty differential. Arguably, the Bulldogs’ offensive pressure forced that disparity, but that wasn’t how Berenson saw it.

“I think penalties had a big part in the whole game,” he said. “Just too many penalties. Were they good penalties? I can’t tell you what I really think. I mean, you can’t talk about refereeing and penalties, but when one team gets nine and the other four, it doesn’t add up.”

Nonetheless, Michigan and Duluth remained tied after regulation, conjuring memories of the title game nine years ago in this same building. An overtime penalty in 2002 resulted in a Minnesota power-play goal and national championship.

An officiating crew can be forgiven if it hopes to avoid the controversy of putting either team on an overtime power play, but it also knows there may be calls that have to get made.

“We’re all on the same page,” Bunyon said. “We just want the game to come to us. Work hard, get to the net, be there for any potential scoring opportunities, and just officiate the game and hope everything goes smooth.

“Work hard is the key. Stay focused and see it right through to the end, because you know how important it is to everybody.”

This year, there were no overtime penalties to call. Kyle Schmidt scored the game-winner 3:22 in on a clean play.

Benedetto pointed to a job well done.

“I’m excited and satisfied for the whole crew,” he said. “I thought we did a great job and I’m looking forward to the next one.

“That’s how I look at it. This one is behind us now. Now we just need to work hard and try to get here again.”

And root against Hockey East teams?

A chorus of the four officials rang out arguing to the contrary.

“No, we never do that,” Benedetto said. “We never root against Hockey East schools.”

Bunyon added, “Make sure that’s in bold.”


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  • Greg

    Sorry, but that crew was terrible. The linesmen need to go back to officiating school and learn the offsides rule.

  • guest

    I’m sure Benedetto and Bunyon are nice guys and all, but they are a disaster on the ice. They have no feel for a game and think they get paid only if they raise their right arms fifteen times or more a night. May it be 13 of the next 14 years before these guys get a chance to ruin another National Title Game as they ruin dozens of BC/BU, BU/Maine, BC/UNH, etc games a season.

  • Shocked

    As a Hockey East season ticket holder, our first reaction was, “NO!” when we heard Bunyon and Benedetto announced as the Frozen Four officials. They are inconsistent, as was evidenced during the UMD-Michigan game. I might disagree with a call but the officials owe us the same call from opening drop of the puck to final whistle. Hockey East apparently doesn’t review game in-game out officiating tapes because it is the weak link of their league and it carried over into the NCAA tournament. Coaches and players deserve the same whistles from start to finish and not have to second-guess why something was okay at one point and two minutes in the box at another for the same move.

    • Dave Hendrickson

      Hockey East does a very thorough review of its officials, including having on-ice observers at games. The league takes its officiating very seriously.

      Officials are going to catch heat no matter how they call a game. You ask for the same whistles from start to finish (which is what I believe Bunyon and Benedetto gave you); others holler, “Let ‘em play!” No matter what, you’re going to have a sizeable contingent unhappy.

      • JS

        Keep defending them. They’ve been a train wreck, and they were a train wreck Saturday night again.

        Also, to the hockey powers that be, keep telling yourselves “intent to blow” is still a good rule. Hockey East officials aren’t the only ones out there directly affecting the outcomes of games.

      • Hockey East Fan

        Dave, I know you can’t bash them but stop defending them.

        The 30,000 pairs eyes that watch HE games every Friday & Saturday nights know differently. They are known as a joke in our conference and now around teh country with their actions the past couple of NCAAs. Just check the UMD-Union game, Champ game, Michigan-Miami 2010, etc.

        At least college hockey wasn’t treated to John “I need the spotlight on me” Grav in the Frozen Four.

        • Hockey East Fan

          Add in any review that is done at the TD Garden…

      • After Further Review

        Refs are always in a no win situation, but as a UNH season ticket holder, I would have preferred they stayed with Hanson/Shea. I think Shea is a bit timid and hesitant to make calls sometimes, but working with Hanson has helped him a lot. To me, Hanson is by far the most consistent ref in HE. Granted, I don’t get to see all the games or all the films, but I have a hard time seeing Benedetto and Bunyon as the best. Sorry Jeff and Tim.

  • Anonymous

    Wow, have to agree throughout the Hockey East season they were awful. Very inconsistent and often one sided calls as well. As much as I love to hear they had Hockey east officials, I think they should have stuck to another conference.

    • Dave Hendrickson

      This crew was ranked the top one in Hockey East this year and although some of the pairings were different, all four officials distinguished themselves in the postseason as well.

  • Maria G

    They are so good that they cost Michigan a national championship…

    • FrozenWild

      No Michigan cost Michigan a national Championship, they were outplayed, out-skated, and outscored.

      • Smithwill

        Maria G is wrong, but only because it is impossible to tell who outplayed, out-skated, and outscored who when you get a game officiated like this.

        • DU

          PEOPLE!!!! ITS NOT THE OFFICIALS FAULT!!! Michigan was the inferior team… QUIT Bitching when the WCHA wins.. You sound like BC fans

        • FrozenWild

          It isn’t impossible especially when you are actually at the game 95% of the calls made were correct. Yes I admit they were strict and could have let the teams play out more, but either way Michigan had to trip, hook, or slash UMD players because they were being out-skated, they lost because they were out-scored and players like Faulk, Tardy, Brown, Oleksuk, and Schmidt all created plays and defended like mad showing they could out play.

          • JS

            Take the fall! Act hurt! Get indignant!

          • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_AWS63OCRBE4TFM6BZUQFIXTNQ4 Mike Smith

            If you read a lot of the posts coming from people who are irritated, they’re not coming from Michigan fans nor do they have an overly-emotive tone such as the comments defending this fiasco.

            That Henrickson did not write about this mess for what it was indicates he is after establishment connections as opposed to being a good reporter.

            I sat through the game. At least half the calls were absurd. You had 13 penalties called. And since most of them were not served consecutively, that adds up to a little less than 26 minutes. A game lasts 60 minutes.

            Almost half the game was something other than 5 on 5 hockey. If either team was that inept, how did they make it to the championship game? How did one of them when a regular-season conference title?

            I didn’t have a dog in this fight.

            I can assure you that anybody who’s played hockey, and tuned in to see a good hockey game where players decided the outcome was annoyed at having their time wasted.

          • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_AWS63OCRBE4TFM6BZUQFIXTNQ4 Mike Smith

            Revision: The above should read: “Most of them (the penalties) were not served concurrently”

  • Billymbrew

    Duluth forced Michigan into penalties with their speed. Michigan players also lost their cool and hit after the whistle.

    They deserved the penalties they were given.

  • Herd

    Homer writer extoling virtues of his league’s officials. Yeah, objective as can be. Can’t praise non existing HE teams so dig deep and praise HE officials.

    • Dave Hendrickson

      There were features galore being written about almost every facet of the games. My assignment was to cover something different. I got post-game access to the officiating crew which NEVER happens. You can be snarky if you want, but this piece provided a look into an area readers never get to see.

      • After Further Review

        I like the idea of hearing the officials side of the game… well written… but, read post below.

  • Bebhion

    Watched championship game, instead of intent to blow whistle, they should have rule to let them hack,wack and slash before he intends to blow whistle. at the end of the day, the right call was made!! What’s so hard to understand? JS, shocked and all the other so called hockeyeast fans stick to rooting for YOUR team. According to everyone the head of the NCAA, Supervisor of Officials for NCAA, NCAA Rules Committee, Commissioner of Hockey East, Supervisor of Officials for Hockey East and the Hockey East Coaches, thats right coaches, have it all wrong! Riiiiiiiiiight!!!!

    • JS

      The only shock is that, in a day and age where we have high definition video and audio that can be synched frame by frame, you would still want a decision that ultimately decides a hockey game to be completely and utterly subjective. My way leaves zero room for arguments such as the one we are having now. Is the puck in the net? Did it go in before the whistle sounded? Good goal. Can you complain about the speed of the official’s whistle? Sure, but we do that now anyway. How is removing one complaint worse than leaving two in play?

      The officials called it as correctly as they could by the book in this game. It was still subjective and I can still call the rule antiquated AND argue that they got the call wrong. Why? Because the call is subjective.

      But my point wasn’t and isn’t that they got it wrong. My point is that it’s time for the rule to go. Why can’t officials be trained to blow the whistle in a more timely manner to avoid the scrums you are so worried about? If they had been in proper position to begin with, perhaps they could have gotten their whistles to their mouths sooner and saved us all the trouble of second guessing them.

  • Dave Hendrickson

    I found it interesting that a CCHA poster commenting in response to Paula Weston’s piece on the penalties from Michigan’s point of view lambasted Piotrowski and Shegos from past years in much the same way some Hockey East fans have knocked Benedetto and Bunyon… even though Piotrowski and Shegos were considered so exceptional that they did the finals of the one year since 1996 that a Hockey East team wasn’t in the championship game. Piotrowski did the 2001 title game during the one year when the “pick the best no matter the affiliation” rule was in effect. (See my other feature on reffing http://www.uscho.com/2011/04/08/men-in-stripes-could-get-hockey-east-into-title-game/)

    Why?

    The best refs are chosen for the most high profile games. Benedetto and Bunyan are considered Hockey East’s top unit and thus did the Beanpot and Hockey East title games. Title games generate the tightest matchups and greatest passion.

    Hence, the best refs often draw the most criticism.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_WNO24X56NBODVFXEWL5W6RNAJQ SteveJ

      You seem to be implying, or hoping, that this simply has to do with the fact that this was a championship game and any championship game would result in this amount of criticism.

      The problem is that there are other college hockey title games, including some that went into overtime and some where one team had more penalties than the other, where you did not have this much concern about the officiating.

      And ultimately, you have not commented on the game itself. And I think I know why.

      You cannot bring yourself to write the words: “I watched the game, and based on what I saw, the officiating was excellent.”

      I don’t blame you.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_WNO24X56NBODVFXEWL5W6RNAJQ SteveJ

    With all due respect Dave, your comments below offer Orwellian vapid panaceas to legitimate concerns.

    For example you write: “Hockey East does a very thorough review of its officials.”

    Says who? Somebody on the committee that reviews officials?

    People watched a game and saw that it was poorly officiated. According to you this cannot be because: “Hockey East does a very thorough review of its officials.”

    This brings to mind a variation on an old saying: “Who am I supposed to believe, some review committee bureaucrat or my lying eyes?”

    Here’s another one: “Officials are going to catch heat no matter how they call a game.”

    This is misleading and omits a key word — that being the word “some”. Officials are going to catch SOME heat no matter how they call a game — and it usually comes from fans of the losing team.

    There are MANY people upset with the officiating performance last Saturday — and they are not fans of either team that played in the game.

  • Johng318m5

    I’m a UMD fan, and so am obviously pleased with the outcome of the game, but I thought the officiating was awful. I was at the game, and it felt as though the officials were overly intrusive and did not let the teams play. The final 5 minutes of regulation and into overtime were penalty free, and the game finally opened up. I’m not sure if the officials always call it like that in Hockey East, but in the WCHA they seem to let them play a more aggressive game.

  • MrRobot

    I’ll admit ahead of time that I am a Michigan fan. I also want to be clear that UMD deserved to be in that game and win that game just as much as we did, and I’m happy for them that they got to win their first title basically on home ice.

    That said, the officiating this weekend was terrible. We only beat North Dakota because Hunwick and the defense played out of their minds to make up for it. North Dakota got every call in that game, and it took some luck to keep them off the score sheet that game. It has been said that UMD outplayed us, and I will agree with that for the later half of the game. It is absolutely no coincidence, however, that they didn’t start outplaying us until after they got call after call after call beginning in the 2nd. It is incredibly demoralizing and tiring when you get called for every fall they take and you don’t get the same benefit. Its a miracle we made it to overtime, frankly, and I think that’s a tribute to how hard our team has fought in order to do so. At one point this weekend, one of the ESPN guys (Who, BTW, didn’t even know a couple of our players names or how to pronounce several others) even said “And we have a penalty coming up, obviously on Michigan,” even though it actually wasn’t. He just assumed it was on us because that’s how they were calling the game.

    Sad to say, too, that we are used to this by now. This is the third year in a row we’ve had a goal called off in our last and ultimately losing tournament game because the referee made a bad call. That puck was loose behind the goalie’s pads, and we even got it in before the whistle, but then the old intent to blow came into play. I would like to point out that Miami got their second goal on us last year even though the puck was clearly underneath Hunwick’s pad. Miami got it in the net because their player dove at him and slammed his stick into his pad. Everyone knows the story of what happened in overtime. That ripped us out of a chance to play for a national championship in our own back yard like UMD did this year. Ford Field would have probably had to put the ice back at the 50-yard line if we had been playing in that Frozen Four.

    We also had one waved off in our game against Air Force a few years back. Their goalie was playing hot to be sure, but it only takes one to break through. I don’t remember who it was anymore, but he had the puck on his stick with a wide open net. The referee blew his whistle just after it came off the end of his stick and as it was going into the net. I still remember them zooming in on the referee who shrugged as he was signaling no goal and I could read his lips saying “I lost sight of the puck.” I may never forget that as long as I live.

    Again, I don’t want to take away from UMD. They’re a good team, deserved to win it as much as we did, and I’m happy for them getting their first title, but we had to fight an uphill battle all weekend, and even winning it all wouldn’t have changed that fact. I should have known better then to expect to win when I found out the crew was from Hockey East and after they took a goal away from us. You can’t tell me its all about the WCHA; we beat three of them, including their champion, just to get to the title game, and we beat CC in the GLI down two of our best players to the world juniors while they were only missing Jaden.

    Also, Shegos and CCHA officiating has cost us plenty of regular season games over the years. Off the top of my head, I can think of 3 games just in my 3 years so far that a critical goal call has wrongfully gone against us (Notre Dame twice and a Michigan State game). That’s just goal calls. In our playoff series with BG this year, they whistled icing on a play that BG’s goalie came out to play the puck. It goes both ways, too. I’ve seen us get away with a few penalties that shocked me, and as happy as I was to win the CCHA this year, I hear Notre Dame had 3 goals called off in their last game they had to lose for us to win it. I know better than to believe that all 3 of those were the right call.

    If the Hockey East officials and guys like Shegos are the best college hockey has to offer, then we need to seriously consider the entirety of the system. I am disgusted enough with CCHA officials that I have written the Big Ten begging them to pull some officials from elsewhere and hold them more accountable for their actions. To me, the biggest plus to the Big Ten is a chance at hitting the reset button on the officials. If they just hire guys from the current ranks, that plus is gone and I’d probably just as rather still be in the CCHA.

    I feel better for getting that out of my system. I’ll step off the soapbox for a while until some more bad officiating forces the Red Wings out of the playoffs. Being a Wings fan also helps desensitize you to getting screwed on goal call-offs…

    • KAW

      Please don’t make Wings fans look bad, or compare them to you UM fans. Michigan gets lucky breaks through the whole season, but the fans whine at every single game.

      • MrRobot

        What do you know, a dumb and mindless insult from a Michigan hater.

        Michigan hockey and the Red Wings have a lot in common. Our fans stand by the team even in rough times, we win a lot of hockey games behind good coaching, and we’re widely hated for both. Red played a few years in Detroit and is close to the organization even today, even being asked to attend practice by Babcock from time to time. Gordie’s son Murray went to med school here. The list goes on.

        In-state Michigan fans love the Red Wings just as we love Michigan, so kindly go back to your school’s sports blog from whence you came where you can talk crap about Michigan all you want and get sympathy for it.

  • Mrtetreault

    People love to rip reffs, and I do my fair share at the rink… but if you haven’t tried it or earned a patch at any level, just relax.

  • Bebhion

    According to Berenson, “if we can kill three penalties, that should be it.” OMG what brass b—s he has, entitlement i think you could call it. I guess Benedetto and Bunyon didn’t get his mandate. Oh yeah, and i guess the three icings in a row they took in overtime that ultimately led to the goal because they couldn’t change their line must have been their fault also!!!! Timeout would have been nice to change his line< but i don't want to criticize the coaching!!!!!!!!!

  • Been There

    I thought they did let them play except for the penalties they called. Technically the calls were made according to the rules of the game with no team or coach above them. Now Red has disagreed with that but the penalties called were well earned. To not call them as they did would have given Michigan who was a much bigger but maybe a bit slower team an advatage. At the end all those icings by Michigan led up to the final goal as they were dead tired and couldn’t get a change. Thus by not calloing a timeout to rest his players Red ignored that and lost the game. Officials fault Red? I don’t think so.

  • Dave Hendrickson

    Rather than respond individually to the multiple places where I’m getting bashed, let me make my points here.

    1) Hockey East officials ARE reviewed on an ongoing basis. There is an off-ice observer at EVERY game. Dick DeCaprio, the Supervisor of Officials, can’t be at every rink simultaneously, but he personally sees these refs time after time before the regular season is over. The rankings of these officials is not done by pulling numbers out of the air. It is done in a systematic and organized fashion. These are FACTS. At least in the past — I’m not positive about the past couple years — league coaches were also asked to rank the officials. So when Benedetto and Bunyon are ranked as the best, that comes after a very organized process.

    2) Neutral fans typically want as few penalties called as possible. Biased fans only want penalties on the other team. :) But officials aren’t supposed to “let them play.” They’re supposed to “call the rulebook” even if that means a lot of penalties. Referees don’t WANT to become the focus, but they have to uphold what they consider the integrity of the game.

    3) The idea that the number of penalties should even out is absurd. Take the Michigan – North Dakota game as a clear example. Only a Wolverine diehard would expect the penalties to have been equal in that game. By the third period the puck possession seemed close to 90% for North Dakota. You don’t tend to get penalties when you have the puck; you tend to get them when you’re chasing after the other guy and getting outskated. That happened to a very lopsided degree in that game.

    Puck possession and territorial play was much, much closer in the title game, but I’d argue that Michigan got outskated during five-on-five play and that’s why they picked up more penalites than Duluth.

    • BlakeadamsSooners

      ***BULLETIN***

      The critical thinking demonstrated here by posting what you saw will not be tolerated.

      Remember: The only people qualified to know if the review process for officials is done well are the people who do the review process for officials.

      And they have determined that they have done an excellent job.

      What happens on the ice is irrelevant.

      The Organization determined beforehand that the officials are good. Therefore the officials did a good job.

      The rest of you are not qualified to have an opinion on this matter based on what you saw out on the ice.

      Please report to building 9 for reprogramming next Thursday at noon sharp. You will feel much better after that.

      Signed,

      The Organization

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_I43RJ6UM6TGDJDHZMTVUKRZLSU mark

    UMD did deserve the win as they did outplay Michigan and did get by the Michigan defense outskating and going by them. I will mention that yes some of the penalties were unfair and can understand why some people are upset. The problem I had was that several times the penalties were not called until the crowd started complaining. It seemed like that happened several times when it didn’t look like a penalty was going to be called and then fans seemed to yell out and then the refs called a penalty. Also it seems due to this that there was no rhythm at times with the game with the penalties. It seemed the fans influenced the refs and that is sad. Congratulations UMD-good job.