Nobody ever cheers for the officials at a hockey game. The guys in black-and-white stripes are usually regarded as the enemy by all sides, which is why Bill McGoldrick Jr. tries to keep a low profile around the rink.
''I do not tell people when I'm at a game that's my kid out there as an official," he said. ''I just listen to what they have to say."
That's not always easy. Officials are often underappreciated verbal punching bags for frustrated parents living vicariously through their kids or coaches who have seen a game plan go awry. But Bill McGoldrick III, known as Billy, is making a name for himself as an up-and-coming young whistleblower. The 22-year-old was selected for the USA Hockey National Officials Camp last summer and is slated to referee the USA Hockey National Pee-Wee Tier 1 Tournament, being held in Lawrence from March 29 to April 2.
The Merrimac resident has been officiating hockey games since he was 11 and has climbed from the low levels of youth hockey to the Eastern Junior Hockey League, one step below college hockey, all the while balancing his burgeoning officiating career with his dream of playing college hockey. He played four years of varsity hockey at Framingham State College, wrapping up his career this winter. Playing mostly defense, he finished with four goals and four assists in 72 career games.
''Playing college hockey was something I dreamed about since I was little," McGoldrick said. ''I'm lucky I got into refereeing. I know it's a way I can stay active in the game other than a once- or twice-a-week men's league. It allows me to skate three or four times a week and still participate in the game at a high level."
Officiating has become something of a McGoldrick family activity, with Billy's younger brother, Matthew, also taking up the whistle. The two worked the Larry Fournier Memorial Youth Hockey Tournament together in Newburyport last week.
Officials work just as hard at their craft as the players do, and climbing the ranks is nearly as tough, which is why even during his college hockey season McGoldrick would volunteer to work games on his off-days. When he wasn't playing, he worked as many games as possible.
Framingham State head coach Chris Heaney recalled going to a junior game in Walpole last fall to look at a potential recruit and seeing McGoldrick working as a linesman.
''The whole place was jumping on him for an offsides call, and it was a close call and Billy probably was right," said Heaney. ''I joked with him and said, 'Billy, you blew it.' But he handled it well.
''I think he's going to be a great official. He's limited in terms of his hockey ability, and he'd be the first to admit that. But he has a passion for hockey, and his passion is refereeing."
Sometimes Framingham State would use the young ref as an ''in-house consultant," in the words of Heaney, if the coaches or players believed they had been shortchanged by a bad call.
Yet, despite his status as an official, McGoldrick still complains about calls.
''Being a referee hasn't stopped me," he said. ''If I'm on the bench and something happens, I'm just like every other player. I jump on the referee. I probably know when to knock it off and I know where that fine line is. I know when the right time to shut my mouth is."
Ironically, McGoldrick was actually one of Framingham State's most penalized players. Heaney attributed that to the defenseman's hard-charging, hard-working style of play, which he lauded.
The aspiring official and former college hockey player said that committing penalties has helped him learn to call them.
''When I officiate, I see kids do things to draw calls, and if as a ref I see a kid do something that I would do, I say, 'Not today, buddy,' " McGoldrick said. ''I know I probably did the same thing in my game, and I'm just like, 'You're not going to get that one by me.' "
Over time, McGoldrick said, he has learned to tune out unhappy coaches and upset parents who berate him after a perceived bad call, but he admitted that making a mistake as an official -- and all officials make mistakes -- is just as bad as, if not worse than, committing a faux pas as a player. Errors by those in stripes can alter the outcome of a game. McGoldrick said a good official, like a good player, must move past his mistakes.
''Any time you miss a call and one team capitalizes, you kind of feel bad. You kind of know," he said. ''At the same time I try not to dwell on things like that. It's the same thing as a player -- you can't worry about that one mistake because it's going to affect the rest of your game. If you do make a mistake, you try to shrug it off."
McGoldrick's peers and supervisors say that the young official doesn't miss many calls.
''He has size, speed, and a good grasp of the game," said fellow official Will Thomas. ''He's a good kid to work with."
Gene Binda, a 30-year veteran official who is commissioner of officials for the EJHL and head of referee development for Massachusetts Hockey, said that if McGoldrick had not been playing college hockey this season he would have tried to assign him to officiate games in the Atlantic Hockey Association, a Division 1 college league that includes Army and Holy Cross.
''Absolutely, I would have used him this year," said Binda, who also is the AHA's supervisor of officials. ''That's how good he is."
Binda said McGoldrick's strengths are his skating ability, knowledge of the game, and presence on the ice. But in order to continue to climb the refereeing ladder, Binda said, the young McGoldrick must improve his positioning.
Although his son wouldn't come out and say it, Bill Jr. said Bill III's goal is to become a National Hockey League official. One of Binda's former proteges, Chris Rooney, is working in the NHL. Binda said McGoldrick has a shot, but cautioned that it's a long road.
''It's up to myself to work on my game and get better and just try and be noticed," McGoldrick said. ''It's the same thing as if I was a player. It's your responsibility to do what it takes to get noticed."