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Mark Sampson Earns Chet Stewart Award for Decades of Commitment to Officiating

By Bob Reinert, 06/03/24, 9:00AM MDT

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Even after retiring from on-ice officiating in 2017, Sampson continued to help USA Hockey as a supervisor.

Mark Sampson was already involved with ice hockey as a player and referee by the time he was 14 years old. Sampson’s playing career ended after his first year in junior college, but he didn’t stop officiating games until he was 58.

That perseverance and dedication to the game will be recognized when Sampson receives the 2024 Chet Stewart Award at USA Hockey’s President’s Awards Dinner. The annual award is given to an individual who has made outstanding contributions to the USA Hockey Officiating Education Program during many years of service to the hockey community as an official and volunteer.

“This is a great honor,” Sampson said. “It’s nice that some people recognize your efforts and the things you’ve done. It’s very humbling. It was a total shock, actually. It totally caught me off guard. Obviously, very pleased and honored to be considered and selected.”

Sampson, now 65, officiated his final game in 2017, when his balky right knee finally failed him.

“I banged up my knee actually in a game,” he said. “It’s almost bone on bone. I felt also that it’s a young person’s game. It was time for the youngsters to step up and do their thing out there.”

The Longmeadow, Massachusetts, resident has worked five USA Hockey Girls and Youth National Championships and served as the supervisor of officials at the 2018 USA Hockey Girls National Championships. Before stepping aside, Sampson had officiated games from the youth level through Division I college hockey over four-plus decades. He continued to contribute to USA Hockey off the ice until 2022.

Sampson was district supervisor for Massachusetts Hockey for 29 years. He spent much of his time recruiting and mentoring new officials. He was a key instructor at USA Hockey Officiating Seminars and led all on-ice instruction as part of the officials’ certification process.

One thing that kept Sampson on the ice for years was staying in shape during his long officiating career.

“We don’t get a break on the ice as an official,” he said. “We have to be in it for the long haul. I just felt that was part of my job, to be prepared. You don’t want to be sucking wind or being behind the play. I always took pride in taking care of myself and being the best official I could be.”

Sampson, who also began helping out at his cousin’s gas station at age 9, credited his parents with instilling their work ethic in him.

“It doesn’t matter what you do in life, whatever it is, you need to give 150%,” he said. “You need to be committed to doing it, and that’s something that I learned at a very young age.”

The game’s evolution kept Sampson on his toes even toward the end of his officiating career, and he said the game has changed for the better.

“It’s more about the skill and the speed of the game as opposed to the crash, bang, boom,” he said. “It’s a better game with the speed and skill of these players today. The game has gotten much better overall.

“Face it, these kids are flying, and you’ve got to keep up with them. You’ve got to be able to go as well.”

Sampson said USA Hockey has done a good job in recent years increasing coaches’ understanding of the game’s rules through mandatory seminars.

“Over the course of my career, I’ve had a lot of players that have become referees,” he said. “It’s an eye-opener sometimes when you go from one side to the other.”

The many years he gave to hockey meant time away from his family. Sampson said Kathy, his wife of 37 years, was patient and understanding through it all. 

“She’s been with me through this whole thing,” he said. “We had two boys that played hockey. It was obviously very chaotic. She is my rock. Without her support and love, my career probably wouldn’t be where it was or got to. 

“She understood that it was a passion of mine and was willing to let me do the things that I needed to do, wanted to do and enjoyed doing. I can’t thank her enough for allowing me that.”

That freedom gave him the opportunity to be part of a close-knit hockey community that he cherishes to this day.

“Some of my best friends are hockey people, people I never would have met if it wasn’t for the game of ice hockey,” Sampson concluded. “They stick together. They’ll do anything for you, for the most part.”

Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc

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