“Just-off-the-ice” officials busy at work during a league game in Jyväskylä.

In the first of a five-part series, we take a look at game officials.

It is a Friday night in late January. At the ice hall in Hippos, Jyväskylä, an ice hockey game is looking to commence in less than an hour. Two off-ice officials, Marko Paassilta, 49, and Jenna Junkkarinen, 25, join 6D for an interview at the back office, donning their black down officiating jackets. They will assume positions beside the rink ten minutes before first face-off, but have agreed to shed light on their fascinating hobby before it.

Off-ice officials have a big role in keeping things together in an ice hockey game. “Our main tasks are timekeeping for game time and penalties, recording the necessary statistical events – such as individual playing time, shots taken, saves and face-offs, and obviously the official scoring, today in real time as well,” Paassilta explains. “We also provide assistance to the referees and linesmen on the ice in scoring details and other matters.”

How does one become a game official? “For me, it started nine years ago. An acquaintance of mine was involved in it and talked me into trying it out, and I still keep coming here,” Junkkarinen says. Nine years is a long time. Have you ever considered quitting? “Not to this date, I still feel pretty keen,” she replies.

“This is my eighth season on board,” Paassilta recollects. “I was looking for a nice leisurely activity to balance out my intense work life, browsed the website of the regional ice hockey referees’ club and contacted them based on that. They told me there was a course for newcomers, and that’s how it started.” A key point is that neither of them are ex-hockey players – a background on skates is not a prerequisite. One big plus is that you can make yourself available for games during the season as it suits you, taking a month off when your life is busy, for example.

What do you get out of it, what is it that keeps bringing you back? “The love of the game, you literally get a rink-side look, hear all the talk about the local clubs’ developments, get to talk to the main actors,” Paassilta lists and Junkkarinen concurs. “One big thing is the great social context,” Junkkarinen adds. “It is always great to come to the stadium.” At this point, from behind the ajar door, another official Jarno Ulkuniemi breaks out in his trademark raging laughter at the comment; these guys appear to have a nice touch of self-irony in what they do.

Mika Oksanen