Henri Neva with the whistle is creating an impact on officiating in the Emirates Hockey League and also helping groom the next generation.
Ice hockey referee raises the bar
ABU DHABI // Most sportsmen turn to officiating at the end of their careers. But not Henri Neva.
The Finn, who started playing ice hockey at the age of six, was 16 when he officiated his first game as a referee.
He said he did it for "a bit of extra pocket money" and has since progressed to the elite panel in the Finnish League.
He officiated two years there before being lured to Abu Dhabi as the first full-time referee to be employed by the Abu Dhabi Ice Sports Club (ADISC), the governing body for the sport in the capital city.
"When I first came three months ago I never thought they had such good facilities and good players," Neva said.
"Some of the Emiratis play at the same level of our middle-division league, which is quite good. I am aware the ADISC are working on developing the sport and I am pretty happy to contribute to that growth."
He said he critiques the performances of referees after every game, and also assesses the performances of the scorer and timekeeper.
Neva hosts workshops for the referees once a month and explains the rules to youngsters.
"It is important for the players to be aware and understand the rules and it certainly helps them to perform better," he said. "It was a good time to catch up those youngsters."
The inaugural Under 20 league, which features two teams from Dubai, an all-Emirati team from Abu Dhabi and possibly two from Al Ain, one of which will be from Al Ain's youth development programme, starts on Saturday.
Neva, though, is concentrating on grooming the next generation of referees and improving the current crop, which includes Ali Kaddas, an Emirati, and officials from the Czech Republic, US, Bosnia and Canada.
Ron Murphy, the Dubai Mighty Camels captain, said the overall standard of the refereeing has improved since Neva's arrival on a 10-month contract.
"As a player, it is great to know there is a professional behind and trying to improve the levels of the referees," Murphy said. "He is very experienced and rubbed in some of his knowledge and the experience."
Murphy said that Neva is "a very approachable guy and we can discuss any issues at the end of the game".
The Finn said that an even temperament is an important quality in a referee.
"The pressure comes from the players as well as the crowds," he said. "The referee should be mentally tough to be able to handle the pressure.
"I have refereed games in Finland with crowds of over 10,000 and I know how hard it is. There are always complaints and disputes over decisions. It is the same all over the world.
"I listen to them and handle it accordingly.
"There are no referees who don't make any mistakes. But a good referee will try to make minimum mistakes."