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All-American Game Showcases Top Officiating Talent

By Steve Mann, 02/23/24, 3:45PM MST


Four officials stand together on the ice for the Chitpole All-American Game

On January 15, at USA Hockey Arena in Plymouth, Mich., the top American players eligible for June’s NHL Draft took the ice for the Chipotle All-American Game. 

While future professional stars such as Cole Eiserman, E.J. Emery and John Mustard wowedfans and showcased their skills for the scouts, coaches and NHL Network TV audience, the game also served as an opportunity for four officials to make an impression on a national stage.

Lights, Camera, Action

Referees Chazz Knoche and Anthony Vikhter, along with linesman Reilly Hickey and Patrick Giles, donned the black and white stripes at the exhibition. They received an All-American experience of their own, while making sure the game provided as much entertainment as possible and steered clear of controversy. In short, ‘mission accomplished.’

“Despite being in an all-star game format, the game was still very competitive,” said Vikhter, a native of Chicago. “Everyone came away safe and smiling, including the officials.”

All four of the game’s officials made the most of the opportunity.

“It was a really good experience to be on the ice with those players and I got to work with some great teammates as well,” said Knoche, who didn’t have to travel far from his hometown ofDetroit. “You pull in and have the NHL Network trucks there and camera crews everywhere. The production USA Hockey put on was unbelievable. The kids were putting on a show out there and it was really fun to be a part of it.”

Interesting Career Journeys

Knoche has been officiating since age 12 and is currently in his second season as a referee in the ECHL and USHL. Having previously officiated the 2020 Fraser Cup Final (NA3HL), the 2021 Robertson Cup Final (NAHL), and the 2022 Clark Cup Conference Finals (USHL), he’s been in the spotlight before. 

For Knoche, the path from player to referee has been an education, and one he has thoroughly enjoyed.

“When I was done playing, I just wanted to get extra ice time, so I started working youth games in the Detroit area,” he said. “Someone told me you could be good at this, so I started to take it seriously. Moving up through higher levels and juniors you learn so much and it makes you want to do more and see different rinks and teams and systems. I also really love protecting these kids. I got hurt a lot as a player so to be in a position to keep them safe is awesome.”  

Vikhter is in his first season as a referee at the NCAA Division I level, primarily officiating NCHC and CCHA games. Like Knoche, Vikhter started officiating at age 12 and also had previous big-game experience at the Fraser Cup Final, Robertson Cup Final and Clark Cup Final. Unlike Knoche, however, his entry into the field of officiating was driven by something different: “…to buy goaltending pads,” he says.

“My first-ever game was a 6U game at the Skokie Stadium studio rink on the North Side of Chicago,” Vikhter said. “I immediately fell in love with officiating. My mom drove me all around the Chicago area to officiate multiple games a day around my playing schedule. What I love about it is, I don’t view it entirely as a ‘job.’ I work in finance and refereeing hockey is another challenging experience for me that keeps me engaged, focused, healthy, making longstanding friends and having fun.” 

USA Hockey ODP Made Big Impact

As part of their career journeys, both Knoche and Vikhter were part of the USA Hockey Officiating Development Program. They credit the ODP with preparing them for a long and successful officiating career.

“The entire ODP staff has done a tremendous job accelerating USA Hockey officiating to the next level,” Vikhter said. “Much like the players, we are all looking to succeed and reach ourgoals. The ODP provides aspiring officials with the resources, knowledge and perspectives that are necessary. For example, the ODP has supervisors with experience in the NHL, minor, professional, international and collegiate levels. This provides insight and instruction that no other program in the U.S. can offer. Not to mention, the management has all been in our skates.”

“I’ve learned so many officiating and life lessons from the ODP that you can’t get anywhere else,” Knoche added. “The supervisors and coaches have given us so much. It’s like being part of another family. We travel together for hours, and they coach us up after games. I don’t know where we’d be without them.”

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