Dennis Milligan (Part 3): Game Time

This is part three of our series on the off-ice officials who work in Anaheim. In this installment, we learn more about the crew of scorers and get inside the process of getting the rosters and lineups established for a given game.

During every game, Dennis Milligan has to be vigilant not just for his job, but to see that the crew of six which is upstairs with him is on task. That’s not an issue, however, since these guys have been together for a long time, and they all cover for each other as the game goes on, a point which I detail in my story (part two of this series) on the gametime action as seen from the scoring booth.

“We operate as a crew,” Dennis explains, “So if there’s any mistake made, we cue up video and have a meeting, but we don’t single out one guy. We’re in this together.”

“Everything we do is real time, so I have to ask, are we getting our clock feed? The arena’s clock is linked with our computers, so if something happens with that, it’s devastating, because everything we do is time-related. That’s my initial worry, but that’s also why I have an ATC [Arena Technical Coordinator] who stands over my shoulder as the game begins. He watches my computer, and if the clock’s up, he’s clear.”

He describes his feeling about the local team by saying, “I enjoy watching the Ducks when they’re on the road. But I can’t be a fan in this arena when I’m working the games. I am in the locker room before every game, both home and away teams, to get the lineup cards, and so I do see the players, but there has to be minimal interaction. The league demands it, so that we can stay unbiased.”

On a given game day, Milligan’s role demands that he be at Honda Center long before most fans are even thinking of getting their sweaters on and heading to the arena.

His first task is to get the game notes for the night and check trends, stats, and potential things to watch for. As an example, he mentions that someone like Teemu Selanne, potentially coming up to a milestone in points, will need to be carefully scrutinized if he scores a goal or gains a potential assist. Nobody, least of all a player, wants to be credited for a point he doesn’t deserve, nor, of course, denied one that he does.

Following this, Dennis must upload the team rosters and check them with the NHL. He must determine what the “Cap Roster” for the game is, and this must be checked against the roster the teams generate. The numbers by this point will already have been crunched by the league to make sure the club is within cap limits.

So what happens is someone falls down the bus steps and breaks a leg, or realizes late in the afternoon that he’s still to hurt to go?

The league has to be notified, and they go back and check the dollar numbers and approve the new roster with a substitute put in. This can become an issue also if there is a late trade and the team receiving the player is close to the cap limit. Milligan isn’t responsible for making that decision, but he must ensure that league policy is adhered to.

At this point, the coaches are shown the full rosters, with no scratches yet made. Each has to approve his list, and following that, no changes can be made. So for instance, Dennis explains, if a guy is coming back from injury and the coach thinks he might like to get him out there for a skate to give him a feel for the game, “Uh, uh. If he’s not on that roster, it’s no go.” Two members of the crew stand in the press box and check every name against the twenty-five man official roster for the evening.

Shortly before gametime, the starters and scratches must be determined and the lineup card of twenty filled out for the evening. Dennis by this point will have given the visiting coach a lineup card, blank of course. The home team, in this case the Ducks, are not provided one because they, like every team in its home building, have a book of them to draw from.

Right before the game, the visiting coach fills out his card and hands it to Steve Bashe, the Crew Supervisor. He will eventually distribute it as follows: The Official Scorer gets the white copy, the referee the blue one, the home coach the yellow, and the visiting coach the green one. ??But before that, the home coach must fill his in, so Steve then goes to the home coach and shows him the visiting lineup, and he then fills in his part, signs it, and keeps his copy. The coaches also pick the starters, and these are recorded. A penalty is issued if the visiting team calls the referee’s attention to the fact that opponents have not put the five guys on the ice (plus goalie) that the lineup says they will, but this has to be done before the second faceoff of the game.

During the game, Dennis has to keep an eye on the stats for correctness. At the end of each period, he reviews all the stats, prints out the stat sheets, and sends one down to the media with what he calls “the basic stuff” (shots, blocks, time on ice, faceoffs, etc.). He also sends a more detailed report down to the coaches. What they get is basically a book, including things like faceoff pairings and who won and lost each faceoff.

He then reviews any goals that were scored by walking over to the video replay booth and seeing different angles of each goal. Even though Official Scorer Serge Gagne has already checked each, Dennis sees more angles. The idea, always, is to make sure that things are right. There’s only so much time during the game, he says, so between periods is a time to double check everything.

When the final horn sounds, Milligan is still not done. He first checks all the stats to make sure everything looks right. He then sends the book down to the coaches and lets them review it. He then makes any corrections they might suggest, such as that a player was recorded as having been on the ice for a goal when he was not.

Dennis makes any necessary changes, and the teams’ PR Directors sign off on the report. After that, the Crew Chief will call Dennis and tell him it’s OK to upload the stats to the internet as a final report. The league’s computers will then crunch the numbers and find any errors.

For instance, it’s possible to put the wrong name in for the winning or losing goalie, especially with the home team, where out of habit, Dennis, whose job it is to identify the winning and losing netminders, might put in the usual Anaheim starter (Jonas Hiller). The league’s computers will pick that up and kick it back. He then makes corrections and inputs them, and then things are finalized.

Except that sometimes, they’re not. “Many times I’m on the freeway driving home, and they call, and I have to approve any changes that they might be demanding.” Of course, the league can also override and make any corrections.

And thus, somewhere between seven and eight hours after he arrived at the rink, Dennis leaves, satisfied that he’s done his part to ensure that the continuity of the game is maintained, and happy that the statistical information that has been gathered, checked, rechecked, and submitted to the league will form an important part of the history of the game, providing information for fans now and long into the future to reference in their quest to understand hockey and admire the accomplishments of their favorite stars.

In the final part of this series, I’ll fill you in on some of the stats the league keeps and how they work, plus reveal a hole I found—a statistical area not yet being watched.

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