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Brian Burke on NHL officiating
By Sandi Trudo

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Brian Burke has served as the National Hockey Leagueís senior Vice President and Director of Hockey Operations since Commissioner Gary Bettman brought him on board in 1993. Before that he held management positions with the Whalers and the Canucks. Since then, Burke has been considered Bettmanís top advisor on all hockey related matters.

His duties are varied. Burke is in charge of disciplining players on questionable hits and handing out suspensions after reviewing the video tapes. He is also the NHLís director of officiating and is the person at the league office who mulls over proposed rule changes. As if disciplining players for bad hits and unsportsmanlike behavior isnít enough of a challenge, Burkeís job also includes acting as the main liaison between the NHL and its general managers. Itís quite a challenge, but one that Burke handles with ease.

In general, Burke has received positive reviews all around. And while some might grumble over the suspensions handed out, Burkeís decisions are usually considered fair. Heís a man who isnít afraid to stand by his opinion and perhaps thatís why he has garnered respect throughout the league.

Burke, 41, is a native of Providence, Rhode Island. He grew up in Minnesota and returned to RI to play college puck for Providence College and played professionally for the Maine Mariners (AHL).

Hockey Player recently caught up with Burke as the season headed into the mad dash for playoff positions. Hereís a look at what he had to say on the latest goings on in the National Hockey league as the season headed into its final weeks.

As head of officiating, what do you see as the biggest problem facing the NHL right now?

We have teams that think whenever they lose, the officiating cost them the game. That is absurd. When we ourselves, and independent people, assess the officiating in the NHL it rates very highly. Teams that lose tend to point a finger at the official rather than shouldering the blame for having the wrong people on the ice or for their players not showing up. Frankly, a lot of it we find very annoying. Itís embarrassing for the league for no reason because our officials do an excellent job overall. I guess Iím in the minority because when I was a manager and my team lost, I usually figured we got beat.

What are you going to do to try to change that?

Complaining about officiating is as old as sports. I think weíre stuck with it. It would really help us if the media were more educated about officiating. I think the media coverage contributes to the fanís view of officiating. If a television broadcaster would see a penalty and say ďthatís a good callĒ once in a while, thatíd be nice. That doesnít happen very often, mostly you hear negative remarks on the officiating.


Can that trend be changed?

I think weíre stuck with dissatisfaction about officiating. I think weíre stuck with it, so what weíre trying to limit is the public criticism. We just wish the media would acknowledge when a guy does a good job. You never read that a game was entertaining and well-officiated. You never read that, you only read that they think the official did a poor job.

Do you like your job? How difficult is it to be the person in charge of officiating?

Yes, I have a great job. Our officials are a really good bunch of guys, they do a good job. The criticism is just a part of the job, just like discipline.

How hard is it for the guys? Officiating seems like a tough job. Hockey is much more difficult to officiate than any other sport.

Itís really hard to do. Even if the building were empty and all the players were mutes, itíd still be really hard. Officiating in the NHL is the most difficult officiating task in pro sports because the speed of the players and the amount of contact. Itís not only permitted, but encouraged in our game. The difference between a highlight film check and a minor penalty can be a fraction of an inch. And, the difference between a minor penalty and a major penalty can be another fraction. The officials get one look at it, at ice level and at game speed with no replays. The officials have to make these incredibly difficult calls and they have to be great skaters to keep up.

What about the level of fighting in the league? Would you like to see more or less?

I think itís at an acceptable level right now. I certainly wouldnít want to see more of it, but I donít think itís a problem.

How do you respond to people who say, ďWhy does there have to be fighting in hockey?Ē

Look at the way hockey is played in leagues where there is no fighting. The stick work, the hits from behind and the elbows are just incredible. The viciousness and the violence of the game in those leagues is far greater than ours.

Have the increased boarding calls helped eliminate some of the more questionable hits?

I think the referees have done a good job of calling boarding. Unfortunately some players continue to show a lack of respect for each other and we have not gotten rid of it. Thatís frightening. Boarding is the one hit that makes me wake up at night in a cold sweat.



This first appeared in the 05/1997 issue of Hockey Player Magazine®
© Copyright 1991-2003, Hockey Player® LLC and Hockey Player Magazine®
Posted: Dec 21, 2006, 12:11
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