Those who watch the NHL are well aware of the fact that, next to the players, linesman and referees are two of the most important positions in hockey. However, over the years, there has been some discrepancy with regards to the roles they play, as well as how many of them are truly necessary in order for the game to be as safe and efficient as possible. The following is a brief overview of the history of linesman and referees in the NHL.


For hockey fans, watching the players break out in fisticuffs is typically considered part of the fun. Nevertheless, these situations obviously put the players, and occasionally the fans, in danger. Therefore, having someone on standby to break up these fights is vital. Furthermore, they are able to stop play for the following reasons: too many men, hand passes/ high stick, icing/ offsides, puck out of play, potential injuries. In addition, they are also tasked with overseeing face-offs between players. This is the job of a linesman, in a nutshell: to keep the players safe on the ice as well as from one another.


On the flip side, tasked with officiating the game and calling out penalties, among other things. Moreover, although the linesman also oversee some face-offs, the referee is in charge of all face-offs taking place in the center of the ice rink. The ultimate voice of reason on the ice, referees are vital to making sure the game is being played fair, above all.

How Many Linesman and Refs Are Needed?

Since the 2000-01 NHL season, there have been two refs and two linesmen used in all games. It was a fairly controversial move, as just one of each was considered acceptable before, but many argue that this age has spawned a series of highly skilled players, making it impossible for just one ref or linesman to keep up with all the plays. Interestingly enough, during the winter Olympics of 2006, the NHL temporarily returned to using one ref in the games. However, there is no sign that the league will be returning to a one-ref system anytime soon.

Overall, referees and linesman remain intricately involved in the outcomes of all NHL games. While in the past, the game was played using just one referee and one linesman, in this age, the majority seem to be more comfortable with the four-official system. Either way, the most crucial element is that the players are safe and the game remains as fair as possible.

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