As Brent Gawlik got onto the ice for his pregame skate, emotions got the best of him.
Having officiated hundreds of junior and college hockey games during his career, the United States Hockey League (USHL) game between Youngstown and host Muskegon on New Year’s Eve was different.
Brent was sharing the ice with one of his sons.
Also a linesman, Ben Gawlik got assigned to work with his dad for a game for the first time at that high of a level.
“It was pretty surreal,” Brent said. “Once the puck dropped, it was kind of like any other game because we’re concentrating on doing our jobs. But I did take a few minutes here and there to kind of think about it at stoppages or maybe during the play a few times. I kind of thought, ‘That’s my son over there.’ That was pretty cool. It was quite a special night for sure.”
Ben also soaked up the chance to work with his dad.
“Mostly during media timeouts when we could kind of just share a water standing next to each other and just look into the crowd and see everybody that was there,” Ben said. “It was a pretty special moment, especially in that arena that I grew up playing in and going to games as well.”
The Gawliks were part of a three-official crew with veteran Brian Hankes — who is one of Brent’s good friends — serving as the referee.
“He was just thrilled,” Brent said. “He kept saying, ‘This is you guys’ night. This is nobody else’s night. This is your night.’”
Father/son duo Brent Gawlik (left) and Ben Gawlik (right) pose for a picture following the USHL game between Youngstown and Muskegon on Dec. 31, 2021.
Ben, 21, watched his dad officiate games growing up. Brent, who is in his 36th season as an official, never pressured his son to get into the profession. But Ben always had an interest in doing what his dad did.
Ben started officiating games at age 14. He worked his way up the ranks and was chosen to participate in the USA Hockey Junior Officiating Development Program. Ben, who lives in Amarillo, Texas, is in his second year in the full-time program and has been working games primarily in the North American 3 Hockey League and North American Hockey League. He’ll travel up north once in a while to work some USHL contests.
Brent, 50, is a part-time official and works about 10 USHL games per season. His main linesman gig is with the National Collegiate Hockey Conference (NCHC). Brent is in his 27th and final year skating Division I college hockey games. He’s retiring from that level of officiating after this season.
Brent has worked large hockey events all over the world during his career, traveling to such places as Russia, Mexico City and Austria. The tournaments rank high on his list of hockey achievements, but sharing the ice for a game with his son doesn’t compare.
“It’s got to be number one for sure,” Brent said. “That’s a once-in-a-career thing. It’s just amazing to be able to do that with your son.”
Word came out in November via email that Brent and Ben were going to be paired together for the game.
“He called me right away and said, ‘Hey, did you see the schedule?’ Brent recalled. “I said, ‘No, what’s up?’ He said, ‘We’re working together in Muskegon on New Year’s.’ It was awesome.”
Ben came home for the holidays and stayed with his parents in Holland, Michigan. On gameday, Brent and Ben were able to make the 40-minute drive north together to the rink. About 30-40 family members — Ben’s mom, brother, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins on both sides — were in attendance.
When Brent and Ben skated onto the ice for the first time, they were greeted with cheers. Well, mostly.
“A couple of my little cousins definitely gave me the boo, which was funny,” Ben said.
With “Gawlik” stitched across the back of their official uniforms, everyone at the game could tell that Brent and Ben are related. Early on, coaches and players on both teams picked up on the father-son connection.
“They were kind of making a couple funny comments about me looking better or him looking better out there, so that was kind of funny,” Ben said.
Being on the ice with his dad, Ben was able to pick up some helpful pointers on how his dad handles some situations and gets into a game.
“One thing I noticed was him just having all that experience, he can kind of just settle down during a game and let the game flow,” Ben said. “Sometimes, I’m kind of wound tight, and sometimes I just need to settle down a little bit and let the game come to me. He was a little more laid back and let the game flow.”
Ben had to shake off some nerves early on once the puck dropped.
“I think more so just because my family was there and I’d never worked with my dad at that level,” Ben said. “I wanted to do a good job and not screw up in front of everybody.”
Having a proud father moment, Brent helped his son feel like it was any other night on the ice.
“It was fun working with Ben,” he said. “He did a great job.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.