This has been a frustrating season.
Not so much because of the play of the Quad-City Mallards. They've played well enough to position themselves for a fifth straight playoff berth. The frustrations come from the consistent inconsistencies of the officiating of the ECHL.
It's always been tough at times, after all, this is a developmental league for the officials as well as the players, but this year has seemed worse than usual.
There have been multiple games -- three off the top of my head -- where clear goals were waived off, and several other games where penalties or no-calls have cost the Mallards.
Wednesday's game was another one of those cases.
Whether Brady Brassart embellished or not -- on tape it looks like he might have but I'm not going to say I know how it feels to be two-handed on the wrists -- the fact remains that he was still slashed. If the referee wants to call embellishment, fine, but the embellishment call should not wipe away the slashing call. If anything, there should have been matching minors, and 4-on-4 hockey.
Taking away one of the team's best penalty killers cost the Mallards the win, and a point that could loom large at the end of the season.
Head coach Phil Axtell was as frustrated as I've seen him this year, and I don't blame him. He's seen multiple calls go against his team this year, and many of them have cost his team points in the standings. It's impossible to really predict how some of these games would have turned out, but there have been numerous times where games were influenced because of officiating.
Those points would be huge right now. The Mallards could already have clinched a playoff spot, already clinched the three seed and possibly be in strong contention for the two seed and home-ice advantage if the calls had gone correctly.
It's unfair to blame it all on the refs, because at the end of the day the Mallards still have chances in these games to win and the goals against are more due to defensive lapses or breakdowns than officiating, but that shouldn't excuse the officiating.
I give the officials a lot of credit. They are here for development, their goals are to move up as well, and they're being shortchanged by the league. With just one referee, things are going to get missed, and it puts a lot of pressure on the one referee to call the game right, or at least to call the game fair. The lack of a second referee also leads to less conversation about calls. A second referee can see things from a different angle, have a different opinion of what happened, and offer a second alternative. One referee has a lot of pressure to get the call right, and really only relies on what he saw.
Tonight is one of those cases. It's possible the referee didn't see the slash from the right angle, and instead saw Brassart go to the ice. In that case, it's understandable that he would call embellishment and miss the slash that led to the dive.
The league needs to help out its crew. Adding a second referee would be expensive -- paying for jobs, travel, insurance and more would cost a lot of money the league likely doesn't have. A replay system would work for goals but wouldn't prevent blown penalties.
The league does send supervisors to games throughout the country, but they can only say whether or not a call was right or not, not overturn it at the time.
There's no right answer, but the league does need to do something, make a statement to address the issue. Because right now, the officiating has made the product worse than it should be. These players and officials are working hard, but the officials get the brunt when things go wrong.
This is a good league, and has good hockey, but when that hockey is blighted by missed calls, it makes for a poor product. The league should take a look and address this issue in the offseason, and try to put the best product on the ice every night.
As for the game itself, the Mallards once again had a momentary lapse cost them. One minute is all it took for Kalamazoo to score two goals and take a lead. To the Mallards' credit, same as Saturday against Wheeling, they fought back and took a lead that probably should have held up. But the Mallards have to fix these momentary lapses because they've cost the team too many times this year, and will cost the Mallards in the playoffs if they keep happening.