When the puck drops on the 2020 BioSteel All-American Game, there will be more individuals on the ice looking to showcase their skills than just the players.
The four officials selected to oversee the Jan. 20 battle between USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program Under-18 Team and a United States Hockey League (USHL) all-star squad are rising through the hockey ranks as well as they try to live out the same dreams as the NHL Draft-eligible players the new event is designed to showcase.
Jake Jackson (Andover, Minn.) and Steve Sailor (Sewell, N.J.) will be the referees for the contest, while linesmen Neil Frederickson (Lake Elmo, Minn.) and Kilian McNamara (Lantana, Fla.) will join them on the ice at USA Hockey Arena in Plymouth, Michigan.
“It was a huge honor to get the invite,” Jackson said. “I know it’s the first-ever one, but it’s definitely an honor and I know guys who have worked the All-American [Prospects Game] in the past — guys I still to this day look up to — so to be able to get this opportunity is awesome.”
The four officials are just like the players in their quest to turn their passion for hockey into a career. Jackson, Sailor, Frederickson and McNamara are already well on their way in their striped journey, as they all have or are currently going through USA Hockey’s Officiating Development Program, which provides them with world-class leadership and guidance while they work junior and minor pro games across the country.
“Just like players, we strive for the best,” McNamara said. “All of us working the game, our goal is to be in the NHL someday, just like the players. That’s something that the players are at this game for, and it’s the right stepping stone for us, working this game too. It’s a tremendous honor and it’s a great way for us to come up with realistic goals in the future. There have been officials who have worked this game, Ryan Daisey for example, he worked this game and now he’s a full-time NHL linesman. Obviously nothing is ever guaranteed, but it’s great to see that people in the past have worked this game and they’ve been able to achieve goals like working in the NHL, and that’s something we can use by being selected to work this game.”
Scott Zelkin, manager of the officiating development program, and Matt Leaf, director of the officiating education program, were in charge of selecting the referees to work the BioSteel All-American Game, and they had plenty of talented individuals to decide on.
“The officiating development program, within USA Hockey, is the vehicle we use to coach, train and development the best amateur officials that we have in the country with the goal of helping them to move on to careers in professional hockey, whether it’s the minor leagues or the NHL, as well as Division I1 college hockey and the international assignments,” Zelkin said. “Officials within this program work on an intensive basis within our top two junior leagues, the NAHL and the USHL. These guys get the opportunity to skate with super talented players, and learn and grow and develop no different than the players. Officials who have come through our program are working the NHL, they are working internationally, whether it’s the world championships, the world juniors, NCAA Frozen Fours, things like that.”
For the referees, wearing the stripes is a way to stay involved in the game they love, just in a different way as a player. McNamara, for example, began working as a referee when he was 12 years old and he went back and forth between a stick and a whistle all the way up through college before making the decision to chase his referee dreams full-time.
“I started really, really young and I always kind of had a love for officiating,” said the Florida native, who helps at officiating seminars throughout the calendar year in his home state. “You stay on the ice, you stay active. Obviously I knew that I wasn’t going to be a professional hockey player, and I was really realistic with myself with it, and I knew that I had a great passion for officiating, and I wanted to see how far I could take it.”
Zelkin, himself a former professional referee with more than 1,000 NHL, AHL and IHL games under his belt, said he takes more pride in helping advance the next generation of officials through the ranks than anything he did in his own career.
“I can honestly say this is the most rewarding thing I’ve done in the game of hockey. I’ve been fortunate enough to referee in the NHL, but to see officials advance and have success at the highest levels is significantly more rewarding for me personally than anything I would have done in my own career. It’s great to see the effort that these officials put in to be the best, to learn the craft of officiating because it really is a craft. To master the craft and be rewarded in the end, that’s satisfying, I can’t describe the level of satisfaction I get out of that, it’s fantastic.”
They all encourage hockey players looking for new ways to stay involved in the game to give refereeing a try. Who knows, maybe one day they’ll be working the BioSteel All-American Game with a bunch of future NHL Draft picks.
“My parents made me find a part-time job to pay for my hockey stick because they were sick of me breaking hockey sticks and spending 200 bucks on me,” Jackson said, laughing. “Just start to ref youth hockey, even if for 30 years you just ref youth hockey and you never even try to get into higher levels of hockey. It’s one of the best part-time jobs you can have.”
“I think officiating is just great,” McNamara said. ““The money aspect is really great — making $50 for an hour’s work is obviously great — but at the same time, having a passion for the game, loving hockey, first and foremost I think that’s why people should stay involved,” McNamara said. “I know sometimes numbers go down because you hear of abuse and whatnot, but that’s such a small factor of the game where I think officiating is just great, you get to stay involved, you get to stay active, you get to be part of the game. We’re not policemen on the ice, we’re just there for the safety of the game and that’s it. I think it’s a great way to stay involved, meet new people, meet new friends, and expand because you never know what can come out of it.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.