OPINION: Part of the charm of low pro and junior hockey is the lack of replay reviews

In the aftermath of Friday’s controversial game between the Quad City Storm and Huntsville Havoc, the cries have gotten louder from fans, writers in Peoria, and friend of the site @SPHLRando for the league’s growing need for replay review.

And I understand those cries, because no team or fanbase wants to be cheated out of a goal, or lose a goal on a controversial call where maybe the clock did or didn’t run out, and if there is a saving grace of all those calls in that Friday game, it’s that it was a regular season game and not a playoff game where the outcry would have been REALLY bad about it. Just ask the NFL about that.

But on the other side of that coin, there’s something charming and refreshing about not having multiple stoppages every game that take who knows how long to try to review something.

Everybody screams and yells for replay review…and then they’re reviewing an off-sides play where the player’s skate might be a centimeter off the ice before the puck enters the zone, the refs are taking 10 minutes to look at it from every angle, under super slow-mo, and zoomed in using 19k technology. Meanwhile, the fans at home and in the stands want to die because there is no reason a review should take so long over something so small.

It’s nice to take in a game and not have to sit there watching the refs stand at the half-circle along the boards while they look at a tablet trying to decide if a player was pushed into the goalie or if the goal should stand. Or that the only “review” at the moment is maybe calling the goal judge over to a gap in the glass so you can ask for his opinion on what he saw. Not a minutes long wait while they review something that nobody in the arena gets to see.

And that’s just on controversial plays. How many times are they going to review something that everyone saw and seemed obvious, just to make sure that it’s a goal? Nothing says excitement like celebrating a goal after the refs look at it three minutes.

The other and perhaps bigger issue with wanting replay in the SPHL, FHL, or whatever other junior league out there: How the hell are teams paying for the needed upgrades you would have to have in almost every arena in every league? And how exactly do you go about implementing replay if not every rink has the same camera shots available?

In his piece on the subject, SPHLRando said just watching the reviews on the jumbotron in the arena so fans and refs are all seeing the same thing, and all are seemingly on the same page. That’s all well and good, but not every arena even in the SPHL has a jumbotron. Knoxville and Pensacola are likely not investing hundreds of thousands of dollars on one just so they can suddenly have replay review. And how many arenas in the FHL, NAHL, or wherever else don’t have jumbotrons? It’s just not a feasible way of doing it.

Perhaps you add more cameras, because as it is now, most low pro and junior teams have the side-action camera view…and then that’s it. If you’re lucky the broadcast might have one or two other options that they use for crowd shots or close-ups when a fight or skirmish breaks out. Now you’re telling these teams that they need to have overhead goal cameras on each end, tablets, and who knows what else to be able to watch these reviews? I just don’t see it happening.

And I can speak from experience on this when I say that just because a low pro league adds replay, doesn’t mean things are any clearer. The indoor football team here in Amarillo plays in Champions Indoor Football, let’s say it’s the indoor football equivalent of the SPHL, and last season the league added replay review. Review using whatever cameras each arena had. So if they had one camera, that was what the refs watched, or if they had three cameras, then they got a look at those. And you know what it changed? Basically nothing. Unless it was a super obvious mistake, you couldn’t see enough from the lousy stream quality and one camera angle to overturn much. It was extremely exciting to watch the refs trot down the tunnel to a TV in back, wait five minutes, then see them come back out and tell you that the call stood or was reversed. It honestly just felt like a token effort to say, “Yeah we have replay reviews!” But when the quality of them is so terrible that it hardly makes a difference, was it really worth it?

Now, maybe that’s the compromise that the SPHL, FHL and others reach with this. Make review available only for obvious plays, or for only reviewing goals, and only from the camera views you have available. If a ref misses an off-sides call by an inch or two, big deal, but if they want to have reviews to make sure the puck went in or that it beat the clock, that I could maybe get on-board with, but these leagues don’t need to be reviwing every close play.

But if none of these leagues ever add replay review, that would be just fine with me. I understand refs are human and mistakes are going to happen, but they’re out there to learn and get better with hopes of moving up, just like the players. And if you suddenly take the calls out of their hands and leaving it up to a review, how much worse are the already lousy refs in these leagues going to get when they know they don’t have to make a definitive call?

So yes, Friday’s game between Huntsville and Quad City was a prime example of wanting or even needing replay review. But that’s part of the appeal of not having review, that blown calls happen, that you will want to scream your lungs out at the refs, and that it just might make your team try that much harder if they’re on the wrong side of that call. Unless it happens in the playoffs, then it’s a war crime.


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