If you read the press these days, you could believe that minor league hockey is suffering from an epidemic of parents behaving badly. Everyone is down on parents. Parents are too loud. They’re too aggressive. Parents should be banned. The solution seems to be that parents can be present, but they should not be allowed to cheer – or cheer so the children can hear them. Parents should be put behind glass so they can see but cannot be heard. Or, better yet, parents should drop off the kids at the rink, go home or go shopping, and leave the game to their kids.

I think this is all out of whack.

Sure, hockey parents — in fact, hockey fans everywhere — like the competitive nature of the game. We’re happy when our team wins. We’re sad when they lose. We want them to play well, we want them to play as a team.

When it comes to our kids, we love to watch them play. We like it when our kids play their positions as they should, when they win their puck battles along the boards, when they play “head’s up” hockey, and make amazing — saves or plays. Or when they see the play developing and make clean, tape-to-tape passes — or keep the puck to themselves because their shot is the only shot to make, and they make it. We love it when they congratulate each other for a play well made, or a game well played. We love it when they are a team, in victory or in defeat.

We love the game when it is played as it should be — and that is the key. When the game isn’t played as it should be, that’s when the yapping begins.

I think poor officiating is deep at the roots for the misbehaviour that parents display.

Out of the three pee-wee games I watched last week, in two of the games, parents got out of hand. In both of those games, the officials had lost control of those games.

In the first game, the reffing wasn’t just bad, it sucked.

One of the good things about bad officiating is that when they are not playing favourites, it sucks for both teams, and the parents for the players on both teams get equally upset. We’ve all been at games where it seems the refs penalize one team more than the other. (My husband, who wears annoying black and yellow t-shirts all the time would be quick to give as an example any game between the Montreal Canadiens and the Boston Bruins. To which I would say, “Stop being such a bad loser,” and “Blah, blah, blah!” while making a repeated talking motion with my hand.) But this wasn’t one-sided. This was pure incompetence.

More missed calls than a lost smartphone

In this game, though, the officials didn’t call anything, or what they did was haphazardly done, including the easy calls, like off-sides, and icing. They equally under-penalized both teams — and doing that was leading to a dangerous game.

You see, the players aren’t stupid. When they see that something has happened to them that the other team has gotten away with, they’ll retaliate, sometimes just to see if they can get away with it too.

Next thing you know, the game was chippy and turning ugly. Players were going down tripped; elbows were flying, cross-checks were littering the ice. Supporters from both sides took turns jumping angrily to their feet at the unbelievable misses this officiating team overlooked. There were more missed calls than a lost smartphone.

One of the hockey dads had enough and momentarily melted down.

He left his seat in the stands, walked down to the ice, opened up the gate to the rink and yelled for his son, who’d been repeatedly cross-checked all game, to get off the ice.

As he was doing this, a lot of other things were going on. The play was on: it wasn’t between periods or during a time-out. The officials, as oblivious to the infringements of the rules of the game that they’d been to that point, were equally oblivious to the hockey dad, his yelling for his son, and the opened gate. The coaches on the bench right next to where the man was, saw their player’s hockey dad there at the open gate and although they couldn’t figure out what he was doing there, both of them started yelling at him to close it, which he did. The parents and coaches from the opposing side didn’t see what was going on, or if they did, what they saw didn’t register. It all took place in a flash.

The second game went off without a hitch. There were off-sides and icings and penalties too, in fact the penalties were called, as they should have been. There were no parents behaving badly, none on their feet, no yelling at the officials. Nothing at all, even though the scoreboard was overwhelmingly skewed for the visiting team.

The third game was set to be exciting as it was the final regular season game between rival teams from the same town. A win would make a difference to where both teams ended in the standings, but the home team was expected to win the game – at least statistically — as they were ahead in the standings and had beaten the visitors at most of their match-ups so far this season.

As it happened, the game fell victim to lacklustre officiating once again and the game became increasingly dirty. At first, the penalties weren’t being called, and like the first game, the players started acting up. In the 3rd period, when the ref finally put a home team player in the box for 4 minutes because of a head butt that happened right in front of him, the head coach from the visitor’s team started to clap.

Clap, clap, clap

I was in the stands with the visitors, but because it wasn’t my son’s team and I had no stake in the game, I think I could see the game more clearly than one of the visitors’ parents. I’d say the clapping wasn’t meant to be critical of the player but as a sarcastic gesture for the ref who appeared to finally be doing his job. But, as you can imagine, that clapping  didn’t bode all that well with the parents from the home team and especially the parent of the player sent off the ice for the game.

Once the final buzzer sounded and the teams had shook hands and had made their way to the dressing room, that’s when it happened. One of the parents from the losing team began shouting across the ice to the coach who had clapped, telling him that he’d be waiting for them in the parking lot. So when the parents of the winning team heard this, they started yelling back.

Soon both sides were sniping at each other. It lasted all of 15 seconds, but in its brevity, it was intense.

At the end, nothing happened. The parents weren’t really lying in wait for that coach to beat him up or teach him a lesson. Their threat was empty, a momentary blip.

These two incidents got me to thinking about what really went on, and I’m convinced if the officials had done their job, nipping the bad behaviour on-ice as soon as it began, no one would have been upset. The players wouldn’t have kept at each other, trying to push the envelope to see how much they could get away with, and the games wouldn’t have started to be dangerous for the players. In both of the games, the coaches from both sides had called over the ref to explain why something hadn’t  been called, in an attempt to get them to be more aware of what was going on in front of them. That, obviously, didn’t work.

Looking back at both these games, perhaps the coaches should have pulled the plug on the game, forfeiting it for the safety of the players on the ice and then making a formal complaint to the league. I’m not sure how a move like this will bode with the grandstand coaches, because up here in the stands, no one sees the game like the ones next to them, or the way the coaches do, way across the ice from us.

At the end, we need to put our players’ safety first. If the refs suck, we need the courage to stop it. Before the game gets out of hand, or someone gets hurt.