Harold Hoot, left, of Waterville and George Smith of Northwood are the goal judges for Walleye games at the Huntington Center. Their pay for doing the job is getting into the games for free.
They sit in an enclosed glass box intently waiting to press a button to active a red flashing light that causes an instant celebration.
The job of a goal judge is as equally odd as it is intriguing. For George Smith and Harold Hoot their duties as goal judges at Toledo Walleye games are also intense and exhilarating.
Smith of Northwood and Hoot of Waterville have served as goal judges for more than a decade. They are positioned directly behind each goal in an elevated box and determine whether a goal is scored. They are the ones who "light the lamp" or turn on the red light to signal a score.
Both judges said the bottom line with the job is to focus intently on the net. Attempting to follow the flow of the play and where the puck is at can be disastrous.
"I was told when the puck crossed the blue line, your eyes go right to the goal line," Hoot said.
Smith said he concentrates on the back of the net.
"If you are watching the puck and they take a shot it may ricochet and go anywhere," Smith said.
The elevated angle of the seat aids in seeing the net and puck.
"You are looking down on [the net] so it helps you to see," Smith said.
Smith said he got into the unusual occupation during the 2000 season with the Toledo Storm. He said he was a season-ticket holder and that it was getting to be too expensive.
"I wanted to find a way to watch hockey for free," Smith said. "I just started out as the alternate guy. I was filling in. Nobody officially told me, so I guess I'm still filling in."
Smith replaced Dave Madanski, who also died just prior to the 2000 season. Madanski had been a goal judge going back to the 1960s at the Sports Arena.
Hoot also was initially a fill-in in 1998. Hoot replaced Andy Molnar, who had worked the same job dating back to the 1950s.
Smith and Hoot said they received no formal training, just basic instructions from longtime off ice officials Toby Oothoudt and Larry Hanudel.
During scrums in front of the net, a flurry of activity can make it difficult to focus.
"You can't be distracted," Hoot said. "It's to the point now that a puck could hit right smack in the glass in front of me and it doesn't bother me."
Smith said he watches neither the players or their sticks. Hoot compared it to an athlete being in the proverbial "zone."
"I don't hear anything. I don't hear the crowd until the puck goes in," he said.
Both said when a tight game comes down to the end, it gets even more intense for them.
"I hate shootouts," Smith said.
But Smith and Hoot are not paid. They are only compensated with tickets to Walleye games.
"People are surprised we don't get paid," Hoot said. "It's just the love of the game."
Smith, 47 , delivers bread for Pepperidge Farm. Hoot, 55, sells truck parts for a Kenworth dealership in Perrysburg.
Smith said the biggest benefit is that he gets to be a part of the game. But he said there is pressure associated with the job.
"You have guys out there that are trying to make it to higher levels and you can mess that up for them," Smith said. "They're trying to make a living out of this."
The referee on the ice has the final call on whether a goal is official. But Hoot said he gets butterflies before every game.
"The first night they opened the building it was horrible," Hoot said. "I feel pinched all the time when the game is going on. I want to do the best I can."
Of course both judges had stories from the days at the wild Sports Arena.
"One night when the clock didn't work they gave us orange parking lights to raise if there was a goal," Smith said. "After the game I said ‘I guess I have to go out and direct traffic now.'?"
Both said they waved white towels over their heads as well to signal goals when equipment failed.
At the old arena, the goal judges' seats sat right among the regular seats — without the glass enclosure.
One night Hoot was hit on the back of the head with a plastic beer bottle.
"There was a disputed goal and the bottle was half full and it drilled me in the head," Hoot said.
The red light at the Sports Arena used to be in the shape of a Budweiser sign.
Smith said he still has inebriated fans who tell him to "just turn the light on."
"They want me to give the Walleye a goal," he said.
Hoot said many fans don't know that a puck must completely cross the goal line for it to count.
"There has to be white between the puck and the goal line," he said.
Both said it is a priority to remain impartial.
"I'm not going to turn the light on for them to win," Hoot said. "It has to be legit."
Sometimes they will be consulted by the refs to determine whether the puck entered the net.
Some players have unique interactions with the judges. One goaltender would squirt his water bottle at the glass.
"I have goalies that will sit there and just stare at you before the period," Hoot said. "They do it to get into the game I think. [Former Storm goalie] David Goverde was notorious for that."
Smith and Hoot said they've gotten acquainted with their seat mates at the Huntington Center.
"Everyone knows my name," Smith said. "I tried to make friends with the fans."
Hoot said he sometimes converses with the fans during breaks in the action.
"I have a body guard next to me now, a season-ticket holder," Hoot said. "He came up to me and said ‘I have your back.' He's a big guy."
Both Smith and Hoot said they had some disagreements with general managers, coaches, and players. But both believe they have preformed well overall.
Every game is now televised on BCSN so there is even more instant scrutiny.
"You have slow motion replays," Smith said.
Most of the time neither goal judge actually sees who scored the goal because they're focused on the goal line.
"I have fans ask me all the time who scored and I don't know," Smith said.
Smith and Hoot judge from the same ends of the arena, never switching seats. Smith watches at the west end and Hoot is at the east.
"We take a lot of pride in our jobs," Hoot said.
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