As the 2014 AIHL season draws to an end, officiating has remained a hot topic of conversation among both AIHL fans and players. Aside from other issues such as suitable rinks, it is commonly believed that the league needs to improve its officiating standards in order for it to progress to the next level. This is particularly relevant heading into the climax of the 2014 AIHL Goodall Cup Finals Series, and the all important decision as to who gets to don the stripes and bands in front of an international audience.
Here at Hockeywise, we have decided to breakdown the officiating from both a statistical and analytical perspective to hopefully offer a greater insight into the officiating standards in the AIHL, the view from both in and out of the stripes and what issues need to be addressed. Part 1 of this look at officiating goes into the statistical analysis. Part 2 will look at some of the further issues surrounding the topic and suggestions for areas of potential improvement.
For the purposes of this article, penalties from both the last two AIHL seasons, 2013 and 2014, were included in the data sets. The final week of fixtures from the 2014 AIHL season were not included in the data sets at the time of publication. There are countless perspectives and angles that the statistics could be interpreted and analysed from, but for the purposes of this article, and for relevance to the ongoing discussion, we have decided to focus on three categories: Average Penalties Per Game, Behavioural Penalties and Penalty Types.
The data has been broken down into a state by state analysis, as well as comparing 2013 and 2014. NSW/ACT were combined into one group due to the regularity of NSW-based officials officiating games in ACT.
Average Penalties Per Game
Overall, Victoria had the highest average number of penalties per game (ppg) with 10.75ppg in 2014, up from 10.45ppg in 2013. NSW/ACT was 2nd overall with 10.71ppg in 2014, down from 11.82ppg in 2013. WA was third with 9.59ppg in 2014, down from 10.13ppg in 2013. SA had the lowest number of penalties called per game with 6.47ppg in 2014, down from 7.42ppg in 2013.
Victoria led all states with the most misconducts issued during games, 1.26ppg in 2014, down from 1.88ppg in 2013. Next up was NSW with 0.84ppg in 2014, down from 1.2ppg in 2013. WA was 3rd with 0.59ppg in 2014, up from 0.45ppg in 2013. SA had the lowest number of misconducts issued per game with 0.28ppg in 2014, down from 0.42ppg in 2013.
When it comes to Roughing the most notable data comes in the 2 minute minor category. NSW led all states in the 2 minute minor category with 1.92ppg in 2014, slightly unchanged from its 2013 average of 1.97ppg. SA was 2nd with 1.87ppg in 2014, an increase from 1.21ppg in 2013. WA was 3rd overall in 2014 1.56ppg, virtually unchanged from 1.55ppg in 2013. Victoria was surprisingly last overall with 1.50ppg, an increase from 1.24ppg in 2013.
When one turns their attention to the most commonly called penalties in the AIHL domestically in season 2014, Roughing was the most called penalty overall at an average of 1.71ppg. Hooking was next at 1.39ppg and Slashing in 3rd place with 1.29ppg. Misconduct penalties were handed out at an average of 0.74ppg.
State by state in 2014 tells another story as well. In NSW, Roughing was the most constantly called penalty at 1.91ppg followed by Slashing at 1.87ppg. Victoria called Hooking most often with an average of 1.62ppg, followed by Slashing at 1.56ppg and Roughing at 1.50ppg. SA called Roughing most often at 1.87ppg with Interference a distant 2nd at 1.13ppg. WA called Hooking the most frequently at 1.89ppg with Roughing the next most common at 1.56ppg.
It is noted from the table above that in some contexts there is no provision for the time and type of penalty in the IIHF rule book. For example, Hooking cannot be called in a 4 minute variant, only 2 minutes and a 5 minute major plus Game Misconduct. This has not appeared to have stopped some officials it seems, for example, there was a 2 minute Unsportsmanlike Conduct penalty called in Canberra in 2014, even though this rule does not exist in the IIHF rule book.
As with any statistical analysis, significant variables such as context, positioning, game environment and referee “style” can influence the number of penalties, not just the outcome of a game. Overall, the trend in penalties in season 2014 has been down on season 2013.
From the data, some referees appear to call more minor penalties to try to have control of the game from the outset, whereas some prefer to hand out behavioural calls to try to assert authority over the game when perceived to be needed, often when control appears to have been lost.
What is most telling about the above data is the exceptionally high number of Roughing and Misconduct penalties called in all states, and behavioural calls consistently featuring among the most frequent penalties called. From the data above it would be fair to suggest that this is a consequence of frustration on behalf of players from some of the officiating. In a league that currently does not allow fighting without severe repercussions, players will eventually find a way to take their frustrations out, unfortunately often through dirty and illegal means.
Even though this is only a basic, two year sample size of penalties in the AIHL and is not entirely reflective of the overall history of officiating and officials in the AIHL, the topic has come to the forefront on numerous occasions this season, and there are obvious areas of concern. A part of this insight is a direct consequence of the increased TV and media coverage and footage now available, offering perspectives not usually seen before in the league. Bear in mind there are some crucial officiating standards that cannot be measured by statistics alone. Match fitness, communication, skating ability, and awareness are abilities that are independent of most statistical analysis.
As previously mentioned, a more comprehensive historical 14 year statistical analysis would ideally be more accurate of the historical context of the AIHL. However, there is scant data available from some of the earlier seasons unfortunately.
To be continued in part 2…