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Justin A. Cohn

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Michelle Davies | The Journal Gazette
Referee Justin A. Cohn, left, watches Joe Kocur of the Red Wings and Doug Teskey of the Komets share a laugh during Saturday’s game.

Reporter tried to put fears on ice

– I’m not one of those types who gets nervous. I’ve met a president, covered four Super Bowls, won golf championships, even had my arm around Maria Menounos, and done so with nary a quiver.

But when I took to the ice Saturday afternoon at Memorial Coliseum to referee the game between the Komets Legends and the Detroit Red Wings Alumni, eventually won 8-5 by the Red Wings, I was shaking in my skates.

I wondered if it was because I would be on the ice with players I grew up idolizing in Detroit, such as Joey Kocur and John Ogrodnick. Or, maybe it was because I was sure a couple of the Komets, guys who didn’t care for me as a beat writer, would find some excuse to send a slap shot or an elbow at my head.

And the notion that the present-day Komets may have been planning some elaborate gag in the nearby locker room wasn’t exactly comforting.

But, as I looked up to the stands and saw the roughly 3,000 fans, I knew it wasn’t really any of that which had me frazzled. It was the notion that I could screw up in any of a hundred different ways – lose an edge and crash to the ice, fail to see the puck go into the net and award a goal, lose my hand while dropping the puck for seasoned veterans – and it would happen in front of a lot of people.

In the age of YouTube, any mishap could be replayed over and over again. People were on Twitter – I’m @JGKomets – breaking down my fundamentals.

In that respect, I was no different than the professional referees, who call NHL and CHL games for a living, even if this was a charity event in which it was made clear I wasn’t supposed to call any penalties. (However, any opportunity to award a penalty shot, I was going to take.)

Kerry Fraser and Don Koharski have had to deal with what I did Saturday, only in an amplified manner. They’ve had players hate them, fans booing them and the constant knowledge that any blame – deserved or not – is going to be pinned on them.

I’ve been refereeing for four years, two of them certified by USA Hockey. I’m confident of my hockey knowledge, but I also know my skating is mediocre and that I can improve as a referee.

I used to sit in the press box and think, “That doesn’t look all that hard,” until I actually tried it.

Now I feel bad for shredding Jim Hawthorne all those times in the newspaper.

The hardest thing to master is positioning. Everything is about knowing where you should be, in relation to the play and your officiating partner(s), so that calls aren’t missed. You need to know the rules, of course, but better yet be able to explain them with confidence, even if you aren’t confident in a ruling you have made.

Players are always griping for goals and assists to be awarded to the correct people – everyone has egos – but frankly, that’s about the last thing I’m worrying about when I referee. I need to keep people safe and maintain the integrity of the game.

On Saturday, I was worried about keeping my own integrity intact. I think I did fine. My only gaffe was getting in the way of the play once, which resulted in Kocur hip-checking me. Normally, I would have been perturbed with myself; in this case, I got a cool life-long memory.

I didn’t call any penalties, but I had a play on the goal line so close that former Komet player Dustin Virag put me in a head lock for (correctly) ruling it didn’t cross the line.

Probably my biggest duty was making sure I milked enough clock before face-offs so that winded former Komets goalie Doug Teskey could continue.

Hey, I owed him. He always was a good interview.

Justin A. Cohn is a writer for The Journal Gazette and has been covering sports in Fort Wayne since 1997. He can be reached by email jcohn@jg.net; phone, 461-8429; or fax 461-8648.

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