Back in 2015, whilst running the Frozen Steel Blog, I had the idea of interviewing one of the officials that control the game which we all adore. Tom Darnell had been interviewed previously, so I thought I would approach one of the others. I dropped Alan “Toby” Craig a chance message on Twitter about it; remarkably he said he’d do it. So here we have it, talking with Toby, and reproduced for Chasing The Puck.
So you’re a stripey by night, what does Toby do by day?
I actually build kitchens for a local business based in Ayr.
Have you always been a hockey fan before becoming a stripey? If so, what are your first memories of the game?
Yes I have, and first memories eh? Got me thinking there., probably when I was about 8 years of age watching my cousin play and also seeing the Ayr Bruins in action.
So how did you become a stripey?
I had played hockey as a junior, second team and also had a couple of games for the first team at Ayr but just kind of got fed up with it all and stopped altogether. In those days, Ayr was a kind of a hotbed for officials and you had myself, Alex McWilliam, Drew Fraser and George Nicolson all growing up in the same street as Gordon Pirry (although Gordon was a bit older than us). It’s safe to say that these guys started me on the road to starting out as an official.
Therefore this one summer I got invited to a training camp down in Nottingham which coincided with it being Nico Toeman’s first in the UK. That season I managed to get in as a linesman, and a couple of seasons down the line I acquired my A License accreditation from the IIHF.
What’s the best and worst rinks you have officiated in and why?
I’ll do the worst rink first. Never actually enjoyed going into Billingham to be honest. The actual rink (before the refit) was a bit of a dump and the referee’s room was basically a cupboard with no showers. Some of the other guys would say Durham, Whitley and Fife but not me. Those places had an atmosphere especially when they were sold out.
Best rink? Without question, Wembley. I just loved being on the ice especially when it was Finals weekend.
So what is the furthest you have travelled to officiate a game?
I have done IIHF assignments in France, Spain, the Netherlands and Slovenia.
Everyone remembers Mike Hicks having that tumble in Belfast when he forgot to take his skate guards off, have you had any such embarrassing moments?
Most embarrassing moment? It’ll have to be a Scotland v England game when I officiated both games at Sheffield and also at Murrayfield; Edinburgh. It’s the Murrayfield one that sticks out; particularly when we were coming out for the second period and it was live on TV.
As a rule of thumb, I like to be last on and last off the ice so at this time I was at the back as we got to the ice itself. The other two officials stepped on the ice, I jumped on head down and away I went. The sell out crowd went absolutely daft. By this time I’m at centre ice then just looked up to see the figure skater going past. So I quickly about turned and sheepishly skated off. Once she had finished, I went back out and apologised to her. We then took each other’s hand and did a lap of honour together. Hilarious.
Who is the best player you have seen play in your time as a fan or an official?
I’ll do the Best Brits first: Tony (Hand), David “Lobby” Longstaff, John Haig and Gordon Latto. As for imports: Chris Kelland, Al Simms, Kevin Lavelee, Len Hachborn and Danny Shea.
Do you follow the NHL and if so, who is your team of choice?
My NHL team is the Detroit Red Wings but I also have a liking for the New York Rangers too.
So you’re in charge of the NHL rule book and they give you permission to make one change to it. What change would you make and why?
I’d take away the 2 minute minor penalty for removing your helmet in a fight; I prefer to see guys taking them off if they are going to fight without any additional penalties added. However, I do like the 3 on 3 overtime rule.
Final question, how does Toby relax outside the world of hockey?
Spending time with my children, playing golf and watching Glasgow Rangers.
Many thanks for doing this interview Toby, appreciate it.
Not a problem, glad to help out.