This is an examination of three separate body checks in one Varsity game from not too long ago with a three-man crew. Region game between two skilled teams that were up and down through the season. It was going to be a good game if both teams showed up with their “A” game. They both played strong and it turned out to be a barn burner of a game with lots of up and down action and some very hard hits. It was a night game under the lights and a very loud crowd for each team. As a ref this is a game you remember for a while because the atmosphere was electric all the way to the final horn.
In this particular game we had several flags for illegal body checks and unnecessary roughness, but we also had several really good and clean body checks. But before I get into the body checks I want to note that the start of the third quarter is a critical part of just about every game and officials must recognize why. In blowout games that are not quite locked up for the winning team the head coach of that team is giving them some variation of: “Crush their spirits, and finish this game!” The losing team coach is generally firing his team up with: “They’re going to come out punching and you need to punch right back!” In games with closer scores both huddles tend to have the message of: “You need to impose your will on this team and make them lose their will to win!” I know this because I’ve been in those huddles as a player and a coach. How the third quarter starts is a big deal in most games and as officials we must recognize that both teams tend to come out hard. At the half of this game the R on our crew was telling us that we had to keep the calls at the same threshold we had in the first, and to be on the lookout for anything excessive or late.
I was single side to start the third quarter and the player in Green for the visiting team caught a quick outlet from his goalkeeper and sprinted up the field with me in close pursuit. I stopped briefly at the cone, but was not concerned with a quick offside as all the attack and defenseman were still by the goal since the clear happened very fast so I kept my focus on the area around the ball carrier. A defensive midfielder had hung back on the earlier shot, lowered his shoulder into the front shoulder of the clearing midfielder five yards past the midfield cone and sent the Green midfielder flying out of bounds. Seeing the hit that was big, but legal, I whistled the ball out of bounds and awarded possession to the White team. The opposing crowd roared their disapproval, but just because a hit is big does not mean that it is illegal. In these situations no matter what you do you’ll hear a lot of angry yelling. You need to be confident that you made the correct call or no call.
There was a goal shortly after the restart and I rotated to take the next face-off, which the Green midfielder won. The next hit was while Green was on offense and it was right in the overlap area between the R, as the Lead, the FJ, on Single Side, and myself as the Trail. A Green player set a pick for his teammate, and the White defender collided into the pick and fell over. As the White defender was falling the Green midfielder with the ball was body checked straight up in the chest by a sliding White defensive midfielder who took a very good angle. As body checks go this one was on point in every aspect, but the Green ballcarrier fell over the White defender who was trying to get up from the ground and fell more awkwardly as a result. Making the hit look far worse than it actually was. The initial contact determines whether or not a body check is illegal, not an awkward fall. Also, the fact that all three of us did not reach for our flags when the ball carrier was right in our overlapping field of coverage tells me that we got that one right.
A quick shot and save later and I was transitioning rapidly to the other side of the field as the new Lead. The clearing midfielder was about to get checked a few steps over the midline and he passed it to his attackman cutting upfield. I turned to follow where the play was coming, fully confident that my partners had the action behind me. As soon as I turned my head and saw the attackman catch the ball (roughly fifteen yards away), I heard a sickening crunch and then “Flag Down!” The Green defender stripped the attackman and the ball hit the turf, killing the play. I looked over to my R as the new Trail and he signaled IBC on the Green midfielder. We chatted after the game and I knew the hit was late, but wanted to know if there was anything else illegal with hit. He said “nope, just really late.” That was the story of the game regarding penalties. There weren’t any two- or three-minute penalties, just a one-minute IBC or UR on each team every three or four body checks.
The fans on both teams might disagree with me here, but our crew set a good threshold for fouls. The head coaches, who I knew well, were not overly animated about the calls because their players were trading spots in the penalty box. It was one of those games where even though we had more flags than usual it was balanced because both teams had exactly the same game plan: play aggressive and fast. Now the game could have gone a completely different way if my partners and I were not on the same page. The R gave a solid pre-game, and we talked through everything during timeouts and quarter breaks. Discussing the no calls in games like this is even more important than the flags. Since I declared a big hit legal on one side of the field because everything about it was indeed legal then the same forceful, but legal hit needed to be allowed if it came up on the other side of the field. Without constant communication between the three of us there is a good chance one of us would have thrown a flag on a hit that matched up with a legal one earlier in the game. Regular communication between crew members is essential to maintaining a penalty threshold during a game.