Dan Ellison started playing hockey in the 1960s. The speed of the game and skill of the players mesmerized him. Since then, he’s participated in the game as a player, parent, coach and referee in a lifetime that includes spending 30 years with the San Diego Police Department.
Taking over for Steve Stevens as the Referee-In-Chief for the Pacific District, Stripes caught up with Ellison about the new job, his history in hockey and what he’s learned from the work of his predecessor that he would like to carry into the future.
Stripes: How does it feel to now be the Pacific District Referee-In-Chief?
Dan Ellison: I’m very honored by my selection. It’s a lot busier than I anticipated, but it’s very enjoyable and I’m learning a lot.
Stripes: What have you learned so far on the job?
Ellison: It’s all the different facets of hockey. I’m very fortunate that I played, I was a (hockey) parent, I coached, and I was an official. So I’ve seen (the game) from all different sides. When you get immersed in the lower levels of officiating, a lot of times it feels like you are against the world, or the officials against everybody, but in the position I’m in now I really see that there is a lot of support for new officials.
The rules come from the players committee, not the officiating. It’s their request that we enforce these rules to keep the game safe and fair. I think that people lose sight of it and officials can lose sight of it too. They don’t realize the people making the decisions are truly in support of the officials calling the game the way the rulebook is written. It’s much easier to see that in the position I’m in now because I’m dealing with coaches, teams and league affiliates.
Stripes: Why is it important for officials to have the support you mentioned?
Ellison: When you’re out there and see parents, coaches, players, any time they disagree with a call or an official’s interpretation of the play, the officials feel like it’s a personal attack on them. The coaches yelling or parents screaming don’t realize that the frustration of the individual, either a poor play by the player, or that the official caught them. It’s unfortunate but I came from a background in law enforcement so I should be used to that.
Stripes: What drew you into officiating?
Ellison: I got into coaching first. My son decided he wanted to play. One thing led to another and the coach of his team had some personal issues come up and so asked, “can you coach the team?” So I was coaching and trying to teach my players how to play the game the right way. We go to a game and an official, I was teaching the kids a defensive skill about how you block a player without checking them, and the official kept calling them for interference.
I didn’t yell at the official, but I talked to him after the game and I said “I’m trying to coach these kids, so I want to know why you’re calling the penalty that way.” He explained to me and then we had a talk, we met later for coffee, and he said, “you know a lot about hockey. Why don’t you become a ref?” Okay.
I still have several friends who I’ve grown up that had become officials and I’ve been able to help with the transition.
Stripes: What do you hope to carry into the future in your role
Ellison: Sustaining the enthusiasm for people to get into the sport as an official. It’s difficult because of the way the environment are when parents aren’t particularly happy, but being young, especially the younger people, they’re about 15-16, when you see that they have what it takes, just convincing them to get in and stick with it. Passing on the knowledge, not just of the rules but the nuances of the game.
I hope to continue passing on that enthusiasm for it. Steve Stevens, my predecessor at the position, was really good at helping develop younger officials and I’m hoping to keep going and pushing that forward. He made some really good strides on the female officiating side and I hope to keep that going as well.
I’m lucky we have one woman here, and I still remember recruiting her, she was a player and she worked at one of the local rinks where we were holding a seminar. She had tried officiating but had then went away for college. When she came back from college, she was sitting at the rink one day and I teased her a little bit about getting back into officiating. She showed up at our seminar the next week and now she’s traveling all over the place, working high levels of hockey, she’s in the international program. So it’s very, very fun to see someone who you’ve worked with and recruited make it.
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