My Time Between the Lines: Experiences in Refereeing
My Time Between the Lines: Experiences in Refereeing
Written by: Chris Mason
I could hear the familiar sounds of skates carving ice.
Pucks ricocheting off boards. The muffled voices of parents and players echoing off in the distance. That rink smell, rubber and ice. I left our small dressing room, walking a dimly lit corridor towards the ice.
Despite these familiarities, something was very different this time. I was no longer a player; I was now a referee.
I fell in love with the game at an early age. I remember my parents taking me to the rink — Saturday morning practices, 6:00am. Our car parked long before the sun’s light hit the lot. I was not the best skater, but that didn’t matter; in those days, waving to my parents in the stands was far more important than anything happening on the ice.
Growing up, I was fortunate to have grandparents who lived nearby. My grandfather would pick me up from school, heading directly to the local arena. My skating improved, and I started to feel more confident on the ice. My family’s support, teamed with my hard work and dedication paid off: I earned a spot on my first competitive team.
Over the course of my youth hockey career, I had the opportunity to play on several high-level teams — culminating in an opportunity to represent New Brunswick at the Atlantic Challenge Cup. Throughout my experiences — regardless of level, team or talent — one aspect maintained a consistent the importance of education.
During my senior year of high school, I found myself unsettled on a career path to pursue following graduation. After much consideration, I committed to a post-graduate year — affording me the opportunity to take an advanced course load, while still playing hockey at a high level. To my excitement, I received a call from Kent’s Hill School outside of Augusta, ME. Following a campus tour, a sit-down with admissions and several friendly conversation with students from similar backgrounds, I knew this would be a perfect fit for me.
Attending Kent’s Hill helped me grow as an individual. I learned the importance of time management — juggling school work against a rigorous hockey routine. Playing under coaches Cockrell and Dehaven was a privilege. Win or lose, they were unwavering in their dedication to the school’s core values of leadership, altruism, compassion, courage, friendship, honesty, perseverance, responsibility, scholarship, tolerance, and most importantly, sportsmanship. All characteristics I’ve come to believe exemplify conduct becoming of an on-ice official.
Early in my time at Kent’s Hill, I met another student named Brandon Bourgeois (Team Stripes). Brandon and I shared many similar interests and quickly became good friends. Although we went separate routes following graduation — Brandon attended Carleton University in Ottawa, ON, while I pursued a business degree with the University of New Brunswick — we kept in contact, sharing stories over countless rounds of golf during summer break. However, although good friends, I had yet to fully discover Brandon’s passion for refereeing hockey. A subtle interest that would come to full light later.
While focused on my studies, I was able to remain involved in the sport both as a player with a local junior team and as an instructor at Ough’s Power Skating. It was the latter that afforded the pleasure of meeting Bob Keays — Referee in Charge (RIC) for Saint John Youth Minor Hockey. Bob frequently probed to see if I may have an interest in refereeing. Initially, I was more interested in maintaining my play in a local recreational league. But as time went on, I noticed my passion beginning to wane. Was this the Hockey Gods’ way of telling me that it was time for a change?
In early September of that year, I reached out to Bob to say I was ready to give it a go. I completed Hockey New Brunswick’s officiating course and was qualified to don the stripes. I’ll never forget the lead up to my first experience on the other side of the puck — it was the night before, and I felt totally unprepared, as if I still had so many questions requiring explanations. I surfed the web looking for instructional videos; really, in search of anything I could find to feel more confident in my new role. It was then that I discovered the Team Stripes videos — short, concise educational videos equipped me with the confidence I needed going into my first game.
Bob scheduled me into a two-man system with him on a Saturday afternoon. I remember being nervous as we left the ref’s room, and asked Bob if he had any last-minute advice. I was shocked when he responded, “remember one thing: don’t learn anything from me.”
I appreciated Bob’s advice; we had a good laugh, it helped me loosen-up and focus on the game. We continued to work the same game each Saturday, and in spite of his initial suggestion, Bob taught me a lot. Each week, we picked a skill to hone in on — everything from how to properly pass-off a puck, to positioning.
To date — I have worked over 60-games between the Saint John Youth, Kennebacasis Valley and Lancaster Minor Hockey leagues.
I have been fortunate to have the opportunity to work under such a resourceful RIC, one who truly cares about the success of his referees. For example — this year, Bob has initiated a monthly power skating clinic to push referees to reach their full on-ice potential. While I participate as an instructor, I frequently ask attendees about their own experiences in the black-and-white. It is not rare for other officials to remain on-ice after clinics to advise on some skills of my own. I’ve gained invaluable access to other referees and their knowledge. This network has helped me prepare for various scenarios, so that I may properly handle them if they arise. As I’ve grow into this community, it has inspired me to further improve on my skills.
I am looking forward to completing Don Koharski’s master course during the winter holidays, provided by Team Stripes Academy. This coming summer, I plan to attend the Don Koharski development camp.
Once completing these courses I hope to achieve an even better understanding of the game. My goal is to continuing working as many games as possible in the second half of the year gaining valuable experience. In the offseason I would like to have the opportunity to write my level HNB level 3. This will allow me to take the next step in my career and move into refereeing highschool, local Junior leagues and high level Midget. My ultimate goal would be to someday make it to the QMJHL.
I owe my friend Brandon a big thank-you — as it was his answer to an officiating question that lead to me sharing my story. After my first few games as a linesman, I found myself questioning a few close icing calls I had made. I reached out to Brandon seeking advice. A linked article on how to call an icing awaited me the next morning. The article made me realize there must be other officials who share similar questions. From this, a discussion grew to Brandon asking me if I would be interested in writing an article for a Referee Tribune. Like the Players Tribune, this would enable referees to share their own experiences looking to learn.
I am very pleased to be involved in such an incredibly opportunity, and look forward to reading the stories of other officials in the near future.
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