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Wise Beyond His Years: 17-Year-Old Rising the Officiating Ranks

By Steve Mann, 04/29/24, 12:00PM MDT


Josh Fletcher is a 17-year-old from Amherst, N.Y., but he’s not your typical 17-year-old. What he does in his spare time is certainly far from the norm. Fletcher is an ice hockey official, and a highly successful one at that, despite his young age. 

While not being much older than many of the youth players he’s officiating, Fletcher does not lack for experience. He’s been an official for more than three years and worked more than 150 games this season alone, from 10U to 19U officiating both boys and girls games. Back in early April, he worked his first USA Hockey-Chipotle National Championship event at the Youth Tier II 14U level. He was recently assigned an IIHF Men’s Deaf Hockey game (USA vs. Czechia) for the Jeff Sauer International Series.  

Fletcher took the time to describe his USA Hockey National Championship experience, what led him to the stripes, and offer advice for other young officials just getting started.

USA Hockey: What made Nationals so special?

Josh Fletcher: I could answer this question forever. The number one thing that made it a great experience was the people. Everyone becomes so close, we eat all the meals together, share stories, stay late and come early. Everyone is there for the same reason and has their own piece to contribute. The connections made during the tournament surpass anything that happens on the ice. The others that made it so special were the teams. I loved seeing the diversity, like having all different teams from all over the country is crazy and a thrill in itself. 

USA Hockey: How did it feel to be one of the youngest officials out there?

Fletcher: There was one official who was 18 but otherwise everyone was older. It felt really special to be one of the youngest guys. It's cool to see all the guys who I don't see during the season that do NCAA, Juniors, etc. I got tons of advice and knowledge from everyone. Every time I work with someone I'm constantly asking for feedback because I know they have so much experience and a ton to offer.  

Honestly, I just kept doing what I was doing and took as much advice as I could from people along the way who have officiated at a high level. I don't get nervous often, but I can definitely admit I was nervousat first.

USA Hockey: What was the overall experience like?

Fletcher: Over the course of the week, I did nine games which included seven round-robin, onequarterfinal and a semifinal game. The experience was great. For Tier II 14U hockey it couldn’t get much better. It was a pretty smooth weekend with some great teams.

USA Hockey: How long have you been officiating hockey? 

Fletcher: I have been officiating hockey for three years and have had so much fun doing it. I have officiated all levels of youth hockey leading up to this. From house mites to 18U AAA.

USA Hockey: What made you decide to become a referee?

Fletcher: I love hockey and love being on the ice and I needed a job. I figured I'd try out officiating. The first few games you’re learning as you go. The seminars teach you a lot but being in a real game is totally different. After 5-6 games I started getting it and was enjoying it more. It takes a certain personality to be a ref. You need to have thick skin and be able to stay calm. You just can’t let the little things get to you and as you move up it will get better. In reality, it gets better fast. You just have to keep moving and not let something someone said to you five seconds ago affect you and your calls in that moment.

USA Hockey: What have you learned from watching the pros?

Fletcher: Out of all the games I have watched, I have definitely learned communication is the biggest part about being a referee. The amount of talking and communication that goes on between refs and players is more than you’d imagine. I have talked to and skated with NHL officials in pregame during Hockey Week in America and they personally talked about the amount of communication that goes on. 

USA Hockey: What kind of training or education have you received to get you ready to be an official? How have your parents helped?

Fletcher: In my first two years, I went to the Level 1 and 2 classroom and on-ice seminars through USA Hockey. And this year, I attended a virtual seminar for Level 3. So, currently I'm a Level 3 official through USA Hockey. It's hard, because most of the time, you have to travel and I have to be 18 in order to do so. My parents would drive me to all my games before I got my license, they would make plans around me and they love to watch me ref. They have given me so much advice on life which spills into officiating. 

USA Hockey: Who has helped you the most along the way?

Fletcher: I would definitely say other than my parents, definitely my assignors. You have to make good connections with everyone you meet, especially the people above you. My assignors have done so much for me and allowed me to get the games I have gotten. I also know my referee in chief and local supervisors have helped me a ton over the last year allowing me to get the chances I got in states and Nationals. 

USA Hockey: What's the best advice you've received about officiating along the way?

Fletcher: The best advice I have received is “don’t rush it.” This came mainly from the president of our association, Chris Ciamaga and the referee in chief, Gary Cutler. This is something that is hard to take in because I want to keep going up the ladder, but I know that there have been amazing officials coming out of our association so they know what they are talking about. I also have heard that from so many guys I have worked with along the way. 

USA Hockey: What do you like most about being an official?

Fletcher: Making connections with so many different people. From coaches and players who recognize me (in a good way), which helps build credibility, to all the partners I've worked with. There are so many nice people you meet and everyone you remember in a certain way. 

USA Hockey: What's the toughest part about being an official?

Fletcher: The toughest part is definitely dealing with the different personalities behind the benches with coaches. Sometimes parents get a little unruly too and sometimes it actually makes you question if you did a good job or not. Yes, refs make mistakes and the thing is if it happens once you have to own up to it. If it keeps happening that means you're in the wrong place and have to go down and get better before you move up. It happens and there is no shame in it. Definitely not letting things get to you personally is the biggest part, because there are people who will disrespect you for no reason and there are people who will be the guy who tries to ruin your night. Just keeping your head up and going is the biggest part about being an official. 

USA Hockey: What are your goals?

Fletcher: My goals are to get to the highest level possible whether it is NCAA Division I, Olympics or the NHL. Obviously, I would ultimately do all I could to get to the NHL, but it depends how it all works out. My dream experience would probably be like all the other officials out there, to be in the Stanley Cup Final. For now, the plan is to just stay in my lane and let the opportunities come to me. What I have learned is that if you go out asking for opportunities, they won’t come, but if you do good and have people push your name forward that's how you move up. There is nothing wrong with asking about camps and ways to be better but asking for games isn’t the way to go. 

USA Hockey: What message or advice for other young people considering officiating?

Fletcher: Just do it. There are so many opportunities out there to move up if you want, and if you don’t it's something you will forever be able to say you did and it's a good thing to stick with. Some of my favorite people to work with are guys who have done it for 30-plus years and love it. It's a good way to make quick cash and enjoy the game of hockey. It might be intimidating getting yelled at and players moving fast, but you get used to it quickly. If you are going to do it and really want to give it a shot don’t quit until you work a minimum of 20 games. I can guarantee the first couple will be rough, but it gets better and you settle into the intensity. And, if you like it and want to move up, the advice I have is make sure you keep your head up and don’t let the emotions of the game get to your calls. Make sure you stay in your lane and keep going and let the opportunities come to you. Make sure you still advocate for yourself and participate in camps and everything you can get your hands on. Just don't beg for anything or put yourself in a spot that you can't move up. I have learned there are so many different ways to go that every league you move up in is a step in the right direction.

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