Commentator Stephen White has taken getting close to the action to a new extreme by deputising as referee in an Australian Ice Hockey league match at the Docklands Icehouse.
Proving that it is not just players who have to be tough in ice hockey, a linesman copped a big hit when crunched between burly Melbourne Ice defender Chris 'The Tank' Frank, Newcastle North Stars forward Beau Taylor, and the Icehouse boards.
As the dazed whistleblower slowly left the ice to warm applause – he suffered mild concussion and a deep laceration to an index finger in the collision – few in the near-capacity crowd would have realised that his replacement would come from the rinkside commentary booth.
Into the breach stepped White, who had been calling the high-paced action for ATC Productions, which provides the telecasts of AIHL games for Fox Sports and live feeds on the internet.
White, 30, has been a referee at lower levels for years, but in moving a metre from behind the glass to get out on the ice, he was making his AIHL debut.
Fortunately, White had some protective gear and skates with him, as he was scheduled to play a reserves match immediately after the big game. But he didn't have a referee outfit, which meant the “half-unconscious” official had to be divested of his pants and shirt.
The result wasn't a snug fit for White, who says he looked like something out of "South Central LA" in the bigger man's outfit.
ATC boss James Morgan said the commentary crew was highly amused by White's “baggy pant” look, and hoped he would trip over his pants whilst on screen.
White said the players were also amused by his promotion, - “it's all on you to get in there”, chided Ice star Matt Armstrong - but they remained supportive.
White says he made one or two errors, but was satisfied overall with his performance.
But that was after an "adrenalin dump" when he first stepped on to the ice.
“I suddenly got out there and realised 'oh shit there's 2000 people here, I'm on TV. this is my first AIHL game ever and the home team is down 2-0!'”
Fellow commentator Michael Clough couldn't recall a “single occasion where that has gone on in any sport”
White says ice hockey referees sometimes have nowhere to go during games, can get hit with the puck and can be run into by players much more than officials in other sports. “I could feel that one” he said of the hit that led to his opportunity.
Thankfully, having well-developed skating skills means that more ice hockey referees are ex-players and are probably better able to withstand heavy clashes than the average official.
As White says, such contact is "quite frequent". "That's why they're so padded up … they're the toughest referees of all I think."
Newcastle held out the Melbourne Ice to win 2-0 and go to the top of the AIHL standings.