ARENA MAN
Kyle Hoover, standing next to the Huntsville Havoc office at the Von Braun Center, serves as a goal judge for the Southern Professional Hockey League.

REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. -- He calls it like he sees it; and his call is final. And no matter what the call, one team or the other won't like it.

Such is the life of a hockey goal judge. And this isn't even a paid position for Kyle Hoover, an information security engineer for Ground-based Midcourse Defense ground systems within the Missile Defense Agency. He volunteers for the Southern Professional Hockey League, working home games for the Huntsville Havoc. He serves in the same role for the University of Alabama-Huntsville hockey team.

His wife, Penny Pettigrew, volunteers as one of the scorekeepers.

"My job is to watch the net and determine whether or not the puck has fully gone past the line. I basically support the on-ice officials," Hoover said.

He's been a goal judge since 1998, beginning with the UAH Chargers.

"Basically my wife and I were both college students (at UAH), and went to all the hockey games," Hoover said. "And while we were doing that we got to know all the people and they asked us if we'd like to help them out."

His UAH gig led to the professional games, starting with what were then the Huntsville Channel Cats. He and his wife have been doing both the college and pro games at the Von Braun Center ever since. Penny works as a rocket scientist at Marshall Space Flight Center.

"We both fell in love with hockey, started doing this," said Hoover, who earned a computer science degree from UAH in 2000. "And our daughter attended her first game when she was nine days old."

Their daughter, Aspen Harleigh Hoover, now 4, became a hockey fan, too. "She loves to bang on the glass and flirt with hockey players," Hoover said.

The parents split their home games. Usually, mom will be at the scorers' table and dad will be watching with Aspen; or dad will be in the booth behind the net while mom will be watching with Aspen. If both parents happen to be working the same game, Aspen will be at the home of mother-in-law Betty Pettigrew.

Before Aspen arrived, the parents did about 45 games apiece during the season. Now each does about 25-30 games "since we have to stagger," Hoover said with a laugh.

In 1998 during his third game as a goal judge for the then Channel Cats, Hoover discovered the difficulty of this profession.

"I was still learning and I made a questionable call that resulted in a huge fight between the two teams (Huntsville and the Tulsa Oilers)," he recalled. "As it was getting sorted out the captain of the Tulsa team came over and chewed me out for about five minutes - calling me every name in the book, questioning my heritage, my sexual orientation, my bathing habits, you name it.

"It scared the daylights out of me. Now that I've been doing it so many years, it happens. And even if they tried, I just blow it off."

His call resulted in a Huntsville goal. "The official sorted it out and I think it stood," Hoover said.

During another game that season for the Channel Cats, after a questionable call in a different arena a player went after the goal judge. Now, all the judges' boxes are locked from the inside. Before that incident, the box had three sides with open facing.

And there was the time, years ago, when Hoover was working the last game of the season for UAH. "They tried to get me to say a questionable goal was a goal," he recalled. "And I don't know how to cheat. It's all the way across (the line or not), black or white. The home team wasn't very happy with me. But I don't know how to cheat."

He's also used to good-natured abuse from the mascots for both UAH and the Havoc. "It's all in fun," he said.

Hoover's glass-enclosed box sits on the floor behind one of the nets, about a foot away from the action on the ice. "From my perspective it's the best seat in the house," he said. His counterpart's box is on the other end of the arena. The teams switch nets every period while the judges stay put. Hoover starts out on the home end of the ice for the Havoc games and on the visitors' end for the UAH games.

The Miami, Fla., native celebrated his 42nd birthday Saturday by working the Havoc's final game of the season before the league playoffs.

"You get to watch the games," he said. "And fall in love with hockey."

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16