A change of gear today. Ever wondered who is operating the scoreboard and compiling the teamsheet at any given game? Even in Rec D, summer league, in Melbourne, a bunch of tireless almost-volunteers work to make it happen – and we are damn grateful. (I’ve only been in there long enough to feel sheepish that I don’t help more.)
A big thanks to Brendan Parsons for taking us behind the glass, ice-side, to explain the magic.
Hockey scoring: not for the faint-hearted
By Brendan Parsons
“What was that?”
“I didn’t see! Get ready whatever it is.”
“Use double zero, just make sure you get the two in right, we can fix it after.”
“I’m on it.”
“Hey can I –“
“Shut up! Hold on a second – watch the ice – anything coming in on the radio?”
“No… OK, we’re good.”
“Fourteen twenty seven.”
“Hey, you there?”
“Yep, what was it?”
“Fourteen, tripping, two minutes.”
“Ok, got it.”
“Sorted – shot on – two shots, home.”
The score box at Oakleigh ice rink is nothing short of parody of a TV newsroom– but without the Sorkinesque hallway walking. Scraps of paper litter the eagles-nest perched high above the stands. Aged, yellow control boxes operating the scoreboard and clock flash their analogue red LEDs alarmingly and intrusively. Only the edges of the vintage, leather stools are used by the scorer and timekeeper; the scorebox is no place to sit in comfort despite its relative warmth. Snacks and coffee sit safely away from the equipment, but close at hand for the occasional 20 second break. The computer hums and grinds to process the demands of the byzantine excel spreadsheet.
This isn’t scoring a cricket match – an ice hockey game moves at the speed of the ref’s whistle (which is the speed of sound, so it’s pretty fast.)
With the growth of beer-league hockey in Melbourne, the league should not have been surprised by the massive response to their call for timekeepers and scorekeepers in the summer league.
I answered the call to give back to the league which I have been only taking from so far. After volunteering, I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was a (modestly) paid gig. The pay nearly covers the cost of the non-kosher snacks (for wannabe hockey athletes at least) consumed within the box.
Working in the box has given me a new appreciation for the support structure required to play hockey, and the importance of doing things right; like wearing clear and consistent numbers on your uniform, handing in proper team sheets, and only playing registered players. In a recent game, the numbers on one player’s back, arms and helmet didn’t match – and they wonder (and complain) how the ref may wrongly attribute a goal.
The box requires two people. The time keeper is predominantly in charge of keeping the clock running, keeping the scoreboard up to date, displaying penalties and, at Oakleigh, controlling the walkie-talkie which serves as our only link to the ref. The score keeper operates the flawlessly macro-ed score sheet. Both need to watch and record all shots on goal – a call requiring consensus, as not every goalie’s ‘save’ is a shot on goal.*
You begin to appreciate the teams that play cleanly – minimizing penalties, playing around the opposition and not through them. You notice the teams that continually lob pucks to the net, like a prisoner in solitary confinement with only a tennis ball. You start to feel how each team constructs, and reconstructs, their lines through the game. You see how goals and assists are not the golden metric against which to measure a player’s skill.
With all the sound and fury of a hockey game below you, from your cloistered, anonymous, impartial isolation, you can see the beauty of the game in its rarer moments. It’s a haven from the regular week; removed from quotidian mediocrity. A Zen Koan, not requiring anything from you but the application of the rules. No hype, not fans; just the game itself.
But mostly, it’s a pleasing way to spend a Thursday night, or a lazy Sunday afternoon; watching hockey from a heated room.
*A shot is counted only if, with the goalie removed, it would have been a goal. Brilliantly catching a puck that was not going straight into the net unfortunately does not count.