End in view?
Goal judges taking a back seat to technology
They are an endangered species.
Goal judges are still employed in each city of the National Hockey League. They still flash on the red light after a goal, but almost all of them have been banished to press boxes, Zamboni entrances, catwalks, or upper loge levels of the 30 arenas. Only in Boston and Florida are they still seated among the spectators, directly behind the goalie.
Today, their job is largely symbolic. It is the video goal judge who reviews each goal and has the final decision over both the goal judge and the referee. Simply, the unblinking eye of a camera is more accurate.
In Boston, the video judge sits high above the ice on the ninth floor of TD Garden. Ultimately there is a room at NHL headquarters in Toronto where every NHL game can be watched, and final decisions on disputed goals are made and relayed to the referee.
Ed Quin has been lighting the lamp for the last 26 years of a 40-year career officiating sports. During a Bruins game, he sits stoically in the first row on a bar chair in the aisle of TD Garden, his thumb on a trigger, a telephone at his feet. He tries not to blink. When a goal is scored, he holds the button down and counts to 10 — especially if it’s a Bruins goal.
“Dinosaur?’’ he says, raising an eyebrow. “In a way. I just feel like we are not needed. It is different now. I carry this phone out to the area where we work and that phone hasn’t rang in, I don’t know how many years. Nobody calls you. They go to the video desk. They don’t even call you to say, ‘Whaddya got?’ ’’
The goal judge has it correct the majority of the time. But not always. On Dec. 7 against the Buffalo Sabres, Bruins forward Mark Recchi tipped in a Dennis Seidenberg slap shot in overtime at the Garden, but no red light went on. The referee originally waved off the goal.
“I never saw it go up into the pipe and I never put the light on and so play continued,’’ says Quin, 74. “Then they stopped it. They found out it was a goal and they changed their minds and rang it up. That’s embarrassing.’’
Quin, who works part time as a parking lot attendant in Malden and spends time with his 17 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren, says he gets kidded a lot.
“I have got a reputation. ‘Ed Quin, if the puck don’t go in the net twice, you don’t put the light on.’ That is a cliché. If I miss it, I miss it.’’
Financial evolution Some of the Bruins players don’t even realize the goal judge is there; they watch the referee’s hand signal instead. But goalie Tim Thomas knows Quin’s there. He has jokingly instructed him not to light the lamp when he is between the pipes in that end.
“You don’t notice them because you are concentrating so much,’’ says Thomas. “But when I was a kid watching the NHL, that’s what I wanted to be — a goal judge. Kids think that is a cool job.’’
It used to be more dangerous. In the early days when goals didn’t have nets, a volunteer — called an umpire — stood on the ice and waved a flag when a goal was scored, sometimes risking life and limb from angry players. Goal judges have been putting on the red light since the NHL started in 1917. Years later, many arenas built Plexiglas booths to protect the goal judge, which took up many prime seats but kept the goal judges safe from both fans and players.
“I remember we were playing one game in New York and the goal judge turned on the red light, obviously not in our favor,’’ says Hall of Famer Milt Schmidt. “It didn’t stay on long. Hal Laycoe grabbed his hockey stick and went up there and smashed it off.’’
Schmidt says he understands the use of video goal judges.
“We didn’t have as many scrambles in front of the net,’’ he remembers. “Today, 70 percent of the goals are ricochets. In my day, the goals were cleaner.’’
The NHL started video reviews in 1991-92 and added a second referee in 1998. Starting in 2006, the goal judges were mostly moved away from behind the goalie. The red light was turned on by wireless radio remote.
The added income from selling seats behind the goal is lucrative.
The Calgary Flames promote “Goal Judge Seating’’ at the Scotiabank Saddledome — 16 seats at up to $1,000 a seat for a package that includes parking, cocktails, a gourmet dinner, a jersey, and a meet and greet with a player.
A similar package is available in Philadelphia. It’s a more affordable deal in Buffalo, which moved the goal judges to the press level and added four seats on each end at $50 per seat.
“It’s a financial thing,’’ said Sabres spokesman Michael Gilbert. “The league left it up to the team to decide where to put them.’’
Focused on his work There is no formal training required to be a goal judge. Jim Waple, the other goal judge in Boston, started as a security guard in Boston Garden.
There is a dress code. Goal judges must wear a jacket and tie, adorned with the NHL logo.
“People want to buy that right off my back,’’ says Waple, who during the day is a lab technician for a biotech company in Worcester.
Most of his coworkers have no idea he’s the guy paid to watch the puck.
“Personally, I keep it to myself what I do,’’ says Waple, who has been on the job for years. “I’m low-key about my goal judge job, that’s just the way I am.’’
But he wouldn’t give it up for the world, even though the pay is only $80-$90 per game.
“It’s real fun, you get paid to watch a hockey game and the seats we have, you can’t go wrong,’’ he says. “It’s the front row of one of the greatest sports there is. It’s unbelievable. It’s hectic, you have to pay attention to the puck, you’ve got a lot of fans yelling and screaming, but you’ve got to block them out. I don’t feel any pressure.’’
Don’t call him a dinosaur, either. “I don’t feel old enough to be a dinosaur,’’ he says with a laugh. “I’m only 45.’’
Waple is responsible for getting the two-dozen pucks out of the clubhouse freezer before each game and bringing them to the small freezer located in the penalty box.
One day he ran into a boastful Bruin, Marty Lapointe, who had a prediction.
“He says, ‘I’m going to score a hat trick today.’ I said, ‘If you score a goal, I’ll shave my head.’ Then he goes out there and scores. Then before the faceoff he’s staring at me and he starts patting his helmet — people had no idea why. The next day I shaved my head.’’
Veteran observations No one has seen more hockey than Eddie Sandford, 82, who was the Bruins captain in 1955 and has been an off-ice presence here for 50 years. He has served as a Boston goal judge (in the 1960s and ’70s), official scorer, and supervisor of off-ice officials. He is currently a Bruins statistician.
Sandford is not opposed to video goal judges, because he says the game has changed dramatically since the Orr and Esposito glory days of the ’70s.
“Back then the guys were shooting wrist shots and you could see it,’’ Sandford says. “But now when they slap it, I can’t see it. A black puck goes by black pants and a black glove. It’s so much harder to see, so if you can catch it on the video screen, then you are better off using that to qualify a goal.’’
In the old days, the goal judges traveled to other NHL cities to ensure neutrality during the playoffs.
“You always had a soft spot for the Bruins, but you had to be fair,’’ says Sandford.
He once took a goal away from Bruins Hall of Famer Phil Esposito.
“Espo shot it and it hit the post, it ricocheted across the crease and then hit the other post and then came out,’’ Sandford remembers. “I flicked the light on and then I shut it off. The ref came over and said, ‘What happened?’ I said I thought it was going to go in because it hit the inside of both poles, but it went out. Espo argued with me after the game. The next day I called up the guy at [Channel] 38. I said, ‘Have the boys in the truck take a look at it.’ They said it didn’t go in.’’
Another time he says he turned on the red light but never actually saw the puck go in.
“There was one goal Bobby Hull scored at the east end of the old Garden. A guy gave him a perfect pass and he wound up on [Bruins goalie] Eddie Johnston, and the next thing I know it’s bouncing at middle ice. I put the light on; never saw it and I was watching. . . . Eddie Johnston never said a word to me. He didn’t see it either.’’
As for a goal ultimately being decided 430 miles away in Toronto, Sandford shrugs.
“I guess it’s the right thing to do,’’ he says. “You don’t want to see a legal goal not count.’’
Stan Grossfeld can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.