How do you Advance as an Official?
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This is perhaps one of the most difficult realities of becoming a top-level official in hockey. You need to be seen by evaluators and officiating managers who will give you the opportunity to officiate at higher levels.
The first step is always moving through the ranks locally, however, if you have ambitions to work hockey beyond your local area, it can be difficult to do so unless your local referee-in-chief or assignor is well connected and willing to pass names along to representatives from the professional ranks.
For example, if you have aspirations to work in leagues like the USHL, ECHL, AHL, CHL, or NHL you will need to get the attention of one of the league supervisors.
There are several ways to do this. The best way of course, is through word of mouth, and having one of the local officials in your association or region putting your name forward to a friend or colleague that is connected to one of these leagues. I work with lots of terrific officials now, and this seems to be the most common story.
If you don’t have this path forward, the next best step is to attend a high-level officiating camp such as Don Koharski’s officiating camp, the Kozari officiating school, or the many other regional camps.
These camps often have high-level officials as instructors, as well as scouts from professional, as well as top amateur leagues. In fact, if you are Canadian, a lot of the time officials get seen at these camps and will get to work in the higher levels, particularly the CHL. These leagues, comprised of the QMJHL, OHL, and WHL are actively looking for young officials. If you can attend a camp that has scouts from one of these leagues it’s a good opportunity to be seen.
Other good Canadian routes to move forward and be seen are through Hockey Canada’s officiating program, which consists of the “level” system as well as high performance officiating programs. While these programs are meant to improve officials to do high level Hockey Canada sanctioned hockey such as CIS, as well as their high-level tournaments and IIHF participation, they do have staff and management that work with counterparts in professional leagues. There is a good chance that if you attend a level 5 or 6 event for Hockey Canada that those leagues will at least have you on their radar.
Of course, you may be happy to pursue the Hockey Canada route, working locally and doing the occasional high-level tournament. It all depends on what your goals are.
If you are an American official – in addition to being seen by one of these professional supervisors, a common route is to go through USA hockey’s officiating development program (https://www.usahockey.com/odp).
With the focus over the last several years shifting to getting players involved, an extremely popular event for aspiring officials to attend is the NHL Exposure Combine (https://www.nhlexposurecombine.com/). The basic point is to provide a venue for former players to try out officiating, and to showcase their skills to the high number of professional league representatives in attendance. It has been remarkable regarding the amount of new NHL officials that have come from that combine over the course of the past 4 or 5 years.
Careers are made based on getting seen by the right person at the right time. Each league representative is different, so sometimes certain officials are chosen over others. It’s amazing how luck can play into it. For example, for me a good reason I got to officiate in the AHL was because a new team was starting in my area, and they were looking for new guys.
However, it is important to note that making these higher levels is more than just being seen by the right people. It takes an incredible amount of sacrifice to pursue a career in officiating. A popular moniker among NHL officials is that NHL should stand for “No Home Life”, because, unlike the players, there are no home games for officials.
I would remove and broken. Not sure how begin seen by the right person breaks a career.
Considering that to get to the NHL will require stints working in leagues like the CHL, USHL, ECHL, and AHL, it is quite the path to travel, with absolutely no guarantees you will make the NHL. Working in each of these leagues will require you to commit to travelling almost the entire season, with only brief periods spent at home.
If you have a family or want a life where you get to go home each night, this career might not be for you. You need to pursue a career as a hockey official and be used to driving or flying all the time. This is especially taxing at minor-league levels such as the ECHL and AHL, where a full-time referee may need to drive themselves hours and hours to get from city to city.
It is difficult. And you need to put very serious thought into this career path. There is no shame in saying it’s not for you. Everyone is different. If you prefer to stay close to home, there are plenty of high caliber leagues that will give you that opportunity.
If it is for you – it requires an immense amount of dedication and commitment. Never give up. There will be tough days ahead. But keep going. Keep improving, keep striving to be the best, and along the way have some fun.