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Finding Comfort and Confidence on the Ice

By Greg Bates - Special to USA Hockey, 10/07/16, 10:15AM MDT

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Matthew Ramos overcomes obstacles through refereeing

Matthew Ramos is a different person when he’s on the ice.

The 21-year-old referee is re-energized with confidence, interacts with his peers and players, and thoroughly enjoys the sport.

Off the ice, Ramos can be quiet and stay to himself. Getting back into hockey has changed Ramos’ life.

“When he’s out on the ice, it’s phenomenal — it’s a complete 180,” Matthew’s mom, Janice, said. “At home, he very isolated and likes to hide out in his room. But out on the ice he’s out in the open and he’ll actually talk to the kids. They give him a high five at the end of the game or something and he just smiles.”

Diagnosed with learning disabilities before he was 4 years old, Matthew struggles with penmanship, reading comprehension, note taking, speech and communication and sometimes with how he processes information. In seventh grade, Matthew started to suffer from depression with anxiety and agoraphobia.

He grew up playing goalie, but didn’t have the desire any longer to play the sport, so he quit.

“He couldn’t motivate himself to get out of bed,” Janice said. “He couldn’t motivate himself to go to school.”

Once his high school days were over, Matthew, who lives in Holmen, Wisconsin, started to regret not playing hockey anymore.  

“I thought it was really important to get back into it because I missed, like, the feeling of the ice and the coldness on you when you’re skating back and forth,” Matthew said.

Matthew and his mom began looking at options to get him back into the game as an adult. He quickly decided he wanted to become a referee, and his mom signed him up to get USA Hockey certified.

Matthew set a goal that he wanted to achieve the highest certification possible. Now in his third year back on the ice, Matthew recently passed the required tests and became a Level 3 referee.

“He’s over the moon about it,” Janice said. “But what it’s done in terms of his depression is — it’s weird because his depression gives him anxiety and he has agoraphobia — when he gets on the ice for the most part everything goes away. He still has issues with confidence on the ice, did he make the right call, stuff like that. But it’s like he’s a perfectly normal person out there.”

Throughout its 80-year history, USA Hockey has strived to show that hockey is for everybody. And being an integral part of the game has certainly changed Matthew in a positive way.

“I feel different,” Matthew said. “I just enjoy being out there, that’s for sure.”

Matthew primarily gets assigned to referee 10U games in West Salem and Onalaska, Wisconsin, as well as La Crescent, Minnesota. He waits anxiously every week for the weekend to come so he can get on the ice. He generally works two to four games on Saturdays and Sundays.

“He’s trying to get a job right now, and one of his things is it can’t conflict with hockey season,” Janice said.

It was a challenge for Matthew once he got back on the ice for the first time since he hadn’t skated in a while and gained a few pounds.

“My first game at La Crescent was pretty much a hilarious joke because I was tripping everywhere and falling because I lost my skating ability,” Matthew said. “Then the second game that day, it was a reverse. I was out on my feet skating backwards.”

Janice’s brother, Daniel Fox, sees a major difference in his nephew when he’s refereeing.

“He’s got a different attitude and likes doing his job,” Fox said. “He’s actually interested in reffing all the time.”

Janice and Fox attend as many games of Matthew’s as they can. The two love being in the crowd watching him while he helps and interacts with the kids.

“I think a lot of it is he wants kids to have a good experience like he had in hockey,” Janice said.

Said Matthew: “I like interacting with the kids because I feel like I can help them learn a lot and I guess being out on the ice is another big thing because I used to enjoy being out there.”

Matthew is usually paired up with one other referee for games, but last year there was an instance where a second ref was unavailable and Matthew was forced to work a game solo.

“That was a bit difficult because I was tiring myself out more, so I had to readjust to the game pace so I could conserve energy so I could position myself better,” Matthew said. “That was actually a pretty good game in my opinion.”

His uncle was impressed by Matthew’s poise in a tough situation.

“He looked like a good, experienced ref,” Fox said. “He made all the calls he could and changed his position from his normal positions he’s supposed to be at so he could actually cover more of the ice.”

Matthew’s goal is to still reach Level 5 as a referee, so he has a couple more steps to go.

“I think I may stay at Level 3 for a bit because I realize at Level 4 you have to do skating ability and my skating ability has yet to get back [up],” Matthew said. “I can’t do perfect C-cuts and all — part of it too was because I was a goalie.”

But at 21, Matthew has plenty of time to learn on the ice and achieve his major goal.

“I plan on reffing for the rest of my life,” Matthew said. “I enjoy it a lot.”

Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc

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