Column: ‘Let’s go to the replay booth’

John Robinson watches the action on the ice at a recent Capitals game at the Verizon Center. (WTOP/J. Brooks)

WASHINGTON — Have you ever wondered what they mean by “Let’s go to the replay booth” when when you’re watching a hockey game?

With help from the Washington Capitals and the NHL, I sat in with “the guys in the booth,” John Robinson, Terry Cornwell and Dwayne Brown.

These three men are the ones that make the “final call” on whether a goal is scored.

Of course there is a help line, in Toronto, Canada, where officials are also watching the game from the league office.

But Robinson, Cornwell and Brown are the ones who make the official verdict on scoring at all Caps games, perched high atop the Verizon Center, near section 413.

Robinson is a 30-plus-year veteran as an ice official, who also has a back up, just in case he cannot make a game.

“I like to get here about an hour and a half before the game,” he says. “That way I can get in the right mindset for the game, got to be sharp, a lot depends on me being sharp”

He watches from the booth like an eagle hunts its game, and is in contact with the officials on the ice and at the bench throughout the game.

When a goal is scored, Robinson and the crew spring into action (picture Mission Control for NASA) by playing back video from cameras above the goal to make sure the goal did indeed go past the red line at the goal mouth.

Once it has been determined that it was a good goal or not, Robinson calls the official on the ice to confirm saying either, “It’s good, we got a goal” or “No goal, no goal!”

The time for review explains why it always seems so long after a goal is scored that the announcer says who scored the goal and if there were any assists.

Also, the red lights that go off behind the goals are technically not official until Robinson says so but it’s a hockey tradition to “Light the Lamp” when a goal is scored.

Robinson and his crew also are watching the game clock, to note the official time of the goal scored. They do this for “own goals” too, ones that get past the goalie into their own net.

Just like in the rest of the Verizon Center, it also gets really quiet in the replay booth when there is a power play, because the team is closer to a goal.

The booth gets a tight feeling, like how I imagine it would feel to be in a submarine in enemy waters, as the next “biscuit in the basket” can decide a game, a trip to the postseason, a coach’s fate or a player’s demotion.

During the game, fans will sometimes stand up in front of the booth, in excitement, not realizing the work going on behind them. That’s when Robinson will open the window and say “you need to sit down, we need to see the action,” but then thanking them. He knows every fan loses themselves when there’s action on the ice.

Every now and then one of Robinson’s supervisors visits the booth, and at every postseason game, to make sure the correct protocol is being done.

Robinson stays after every game to fax his paperwork to Toronto, plus he emails his superiors to tell them what occurred that night.

Cornwell and Brown, the fourth and sixth pair of eyes in the booth with Robinson, are just that, more eyes to go along with the cameras, TiVo and booth back up equipment.

Cornwell says that if the backup equipment in their booth were to malfunction, “It’s Toronto’s call then.”

During intermissions or at the end of the game, fans typically come to the front of the booth, usually young fans, who want to know what it’s like “in there.”

Robinson, who is a grandfather, usually tries to give them an old roster or some other piece of paperwork. It may be useless to Robinson and his crew, but to a young fan, it’s priceless.

The next time you go to a Caps game at the Verizon Center, and you wonder was that a goal, or who officially scored it, you’ll know Robinson and his crew are already looking into it.

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