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The gold medal men’s ice hockey game at the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway.

Hearn Makes the Call: I Want to Give Back to Officials

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


The gold medal men’s ice hockey game at the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway.

Rob Hearn recently joined the team at USA Hockey as the new Manager of Officiating Education. Originally from Buffalo, Hearn has enjoyed several milestone moments in hisrespected officiating career, perhaps highlighted by refereeing the gold medal men’s ice hockey game at the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway. 

Hearn shared more about his new role, the importance of continuing to provide educational opportunities for our nation’s officials and what local associations can do to spur recruitment.

USA Hockey: Can you describe your new role working with USA Hockey?

Rob Hearn: I’ll be working with Heather Mannix, the Manager of Education and Player Development, to create a structure for an educational experience for all officials. The idea will be to try to make it align with what the organization has done from a coaching standpoint. I’ll also be working with volunteer leaders on level structure and what requirements would be best for officials moving forward. We’ll also be looking at educational curriculum and education instructor training.

USA Hockey: What are the goals of the position and the Officiating Education Program in general?

Hearn: Education has been good for officials and the goal is to make the program even better and get more officials to complete the program every year. We want to provide new and older officials with the best training possible, so they can go out and continue to be better and better at their jobs, whether that’s at the 8U or more advanced levels. The team is also working to try and enhance the learning experience for officials itself.

USA Hockey: Why is this education phase so important?

Hearn: Officiating is not easy, and if you can provide a good educational program and provide as much information as you can to an official, it allows them to go out and do the best job they can. Hockey is probably the hardest sport to officiate, especially when there are tough calls, so we want to help referees be prepared when they step foot on the ice.

USA Hockey: When it comes to the work USA Hockey does behind the scenes, what do the public and aspiring referees maybe not know that they should?

Hearn: I joined the organization about a month ago, and it was exciting to see the excitement coming from the team in terms of how they wanted to make changes and make things better for officials. There is a staff behind the scenes that cares about our referees, whether that’s here in Colorado Springs or at the local levels around the country. I’ve been extremely impressed with everybody and how dedicated they are to the sport.

USA Hockey: How much of what you learned by going through various educational programs – such as the NHL Trainee program – do you think you can bring to this role?

Hearn: I went to the first AHAUS meetings in Lake Placid many years ago, so I learned from that experience. I also learned from the NHL Trainee program and from individuals around the world at international tournaments. I got better because people cared for me and took the time to educate me. I joined USA Hockey because I want to give back. I want to help young referees, and all referees, and help them get the most out of this. It starts by getting people engaged in the process.

USA Hockey: What are the main challenges facing the officiating landscape today?

Hearn: Retention is probably the biggest. Getting them to register, get certified and come back the following year. I would say if you can get them to come back for a couple of years, they’re going to stick. It’s important to remind them that officiating allows you to remain a part of the game, a valuable part of the game, and help out at the local level. A lot of the friendships I’ve had in my life have been from ice hockey. 

USA Hockey: Any positive trends you see currently in the profession?

Hearn: Registrations are up this year over the last couple of years. There’s more and more interest in officiating. I believe there’s been less abuse, so things are improving from that standpoint. The main thing is there are more people interested in putting on the stripes and going out and being part of the game.

USA Hockey: Can you describe the experience of officiating a gold medal game at the Olympics?

Hearn: It was a dream come true. I was fortunate enough to have the right people who cared for me and took an interest in me. People like Kevin Collins and Mark Rudolph and many others helped me get to that point. Being a part of international tourneys was something I thought about even as a kid. When I stepped off the ice after the gold medal game, I knew I had done everything I needed to do from an ice hockey standpoint (that I knew I couldn’t do as a player).

USA Hockey: What can local associations do to encourage more people to join the officiating ranks?

Hearn: One way we can do that is by mentoring. An official needs someone they can work with that knows the ropes. Having someone like that at the local level that helps them will encourage them to come back the next year. The more experienced officials we have that are willing to work with younger officials, the better off the game will be.

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