Toronto's 'war room' has its hands full Saturday
Deep in the heart of the NHL offices in downtown Toronto is an area often referred to as "The Video Room," "Mission Control" or, at times, "The War Room."|
On Saturday, one word comes to mind that might best describe the scene within those headquarters -- bedlam.
Not since Oct. 5, 2005, has the NHL given its fans the rare treat of having all 30 cities represented on the ice for one glorious day. That'll change Saturday when, for only the second time in League history, there will be 15 games played in a span of approximately 9 hours. So while the stage is set for some rip-roaring, crowd-pleasing, gut-wrenching hockey action, the question is, will those assigned to scrutinize, review and decipher every minute detail of each game from within The War Room be equally enthused?
"I think every day there's a puck in play it's exciting," said the NHL's Director of Officiating, Stephen Walkom. "The way I see it, with 15 games, there's going to be more hitting, more battling, and more goal-scoring; there's going to be more of everything to love about hockey. The more people playing, the better off our sport is. I don't think I'll ever dread the day a puck is dropped between sticks and players are going at it."
Ditto for the NHL Senior Vice President Mike Murphy.
"You're going to have 30 cities paying attention, 15 home games, (about) 600 players in action and almost an entire officiating staff working, so it's a very unique opportunity," Murphy said. "The funny thing is, there are no games on Sunday. Never have I seen a time in my 9 years working for the League where we had so many games on one day and not one the next. We're looking forward to it and are excited about it. It's going to be a great Saturday for hockey."
Steven Hatze-Petros, who has worked in NHL Scheduling & Strategic Planning for the last 15 seasons, won't be working The War Room on Saturday, but is confident the crew assigned will do an exceptional job.
"Our people are professionals in the hockey operations department," Hatze-Petros said. "It spreads everybody a little thin and it works the officials a little bit more but, you know what, it's been done before and, publicity-wise, it's good. It's at a time in the year when we could certainly use it and our teams wanted to play that night because they have all the availability. We don't coerce or ask for availability, it just so happens this night happened to be a night where most of our teams wanted to play at home.
"Ideally, you'd like to have a 15-game schedule during the week so there's more coverage and it doesn't get lost with the other weekend sporting events. Having said that, Saturday is the most preferred night for a home game for our NHL teams, so that's why a lot more games are generally scheduled that day."
In 2005-06, the season-opening 15-game slate on a Wednesday featured seven one-goal games, one shootout and one shutout. There were also three games scheduled the following day -- something Hatze-Petros was cognizant about this season when he declared Sunday an off-day.
So it'll be all hands on deck within The War Room in Toronto in attempt to make certain the games are properly regulated and mistake-free.
"We'll have our largest crew in there," Murphy said. "We'll batten down the hatches and everyone will be at a station in front of a computer that is up and running. Some of the officials, including myself and Colin Campbell (Director of Hockey Operations) will have a little duplication where we're watching one game exclusively and keeping an eye on another during commercial breaks and intermissions so that everything is covered and nothing is missed.
"There might be a little bit of bedlam. If we begin having review upon review, that could make it tough. During that process, I often require the guys working (in The War Room) to offer their opinion. That means they'll be watching less of their game at that time in order to help out on the review, but we always solve it. The biggest problem is if you ever have two reviews going on at the same time because then it takes everyone away from what they're doing for a short period and that's when something could be missed. But we also rely heavily on the video goal judges, making sure they're doing their part in watching the game and the play around the net."
What most fans don't realize is every goal scored in the NHL this season is reviewed inside The War Room. Only those questionable goals, such as those coming off a high stick or a skate, would require an additional video review.
"Something that people forget is that every goal that's scored is reviewed in Toronto," said Walkom, who runs a staff of 33 full-time referees and 34 linesmen. "Now, every review doesn't necessarily lead to a video review, but there is a system in place at every rink where every goal is reviewed. In fact, our officials won't drop the puck until given the thumbs up after every goal. So even though we might not go to video review for a judgment play like a high-stick or kick-in, every goal scored on Saturday will be reviewed, even the obvious ones like the empty-netters, to minimize mistakes. If there's ever any question whether or not the puck crossed the line legally, or crossed the line at all, a buzzer will be pressed and our crew in Toronto will then re-review what's already been viewed and make a decision."
During a shootout, The War Room basically takes over with the help of the video goal judge at each venue.
"I think as the depth of our (officials) team grows, there's less worry about who is working a game because we trust the guys can handle the games they're in," Walkom said. "That's why they're on the NHL team of officials. From our perspective, you would expect some controversy playing this many games in a single day, but I'm used to handling objections at high speed on the ice, so, off the ice, it's kind of like handling objections in slow motion. Maybe this will be one of those days where I'll feel like I am on the ice again."
The first faceoff Saturday will take place in Philadelphia at the Wachovia Center where the Flyers host the New Jersey Devils at 4 p.m. (ET). The four officials scheduled to "start up the band in Philadelphia," according to Walkom, are referees Dave Jackson and Greg Kimmerly and linesmen Derek Nansen and Jonny Murray.
"Everyone will be alert, attentive and sharp," Murphy said. "We want everybody to pay attention to every detail happening in their game. There's a need to focus on your game because there's not a lot of mobility for someone to help you out with the number of games on tap. We're confident and looking forward to it."