I arrived at LAX around noon on December 11. It's about 10 hours from Los Angeles to Frankfurt, Germany, my first stop. I had plenty of TV shows, movies, newspapers and magazines to keep me entertained, and I even managed to sneak in a nap for a few hours. We landed in Frankfurt on December 12 at 11 a.m. It was weird to lose almost an entire day flying. Thankfully the flight from Frankfurt to Vienna was only an hour and a half. After the flight to Vienna, I got my luggage and was met at the airport by tournament organizer Flo, who then drove us to the hotel.
In my seven years as a full-time official, I've stayed in a variety of hotels, from luxurious Marriotts to Red Roof Inns, however none of those prepared for the hotel Lenas Donau. From the outside it might look terrible, but inside, although cozy, it was quite nice.
Once all the officials had arrived, we set off for the arena and a light skate. Each official helped run a portion of the brief ice session, from warm-ups to drills, before heading back for a tournament meeting. The meeting was to make sure we were all on the same page when it came to penalty standards, game protocol and rules. At the end of the meeting, game assignments were given out. With an odd number of games, three per day, and an odd number of officials, 11, it meant that not everyone would work the first day. I was scheduled to be the back-up referee for the first game.
With the hockey portion out of the way, we all decided to grab a late dinner. We went out to the D'lounge, an Italian restaurant within walking distance. Here we all had a chance to sit down and get to know one another. I had so much fun at this dinner. Just a few hours prior, I only knew everybody as names in an email, and after just a few minutes talking, it felt like we all had known each other for years. We shared stories of the different leagues and levels we've all worked. It's times like these when you have to love hockey. Everyone left their egos in their homeland. It didn't matter that we all spoke different languages, came from vastly distinct cultures and had different experience levels. At that table, we didn't care about any of that. We all shared a love and passion for the great sport of hockey.
The first day of the tournament started when I woke up around 9:30 a.m. After breakfast, we had a visit from Austrian Premier League official Shane Warschaw. Shane was on his way to a game in Hungary and wanted to stop by to say hello to everyone. It again just goes to show how small the hockey referee community really is, since he knew practically every official there. After Shane left, it was off to the arena for Game 1 of the tournament.
Since I was a back-up official for the first day, I had the opportunity to see each team in the tournament before I had to work a game. The arena is beautiful, but unfortunately, the first game really had no atmosphere due to a lack of attendance.
After lunch, we returned for the second game of the day, Italy vs. Norway. The last game of the evening would pit host team Austria against Latvia. There was a beautiful opening ceremony presentation before the game. This game had a much livelier crowd with a lot of Austrian and Latvian fans in attendance.
This was the first international tournament play that I've seen in person. The level of play was fast and very intense and having the first day to watch all six teams helped me prepare mentally for the games ahead.
Today was my first official day of games, starting with a 1 p.m. tilt between Italy and Germany. I was beyond excited. I'm accustomed to evening games in the ECHL and WHL, but I was still able to follow my game-day routine. I try to eat about three hours prior to the game. After I eat, I like to lie down for at least an hour. We weren't heading to the arena until 11:30 a.m., so I was able to get a good hour in.
For my first game, I worked with Vasili Kaliada from Belarus and Roman Vyleta from Slovakia. I was able to see both of them work the prior day and was thrilled to have them both on my first-ever IIHF game.
Once we arrived at the arena, I started my pre-game routine. The first thing I do when I arrive for a game is to exam all of my equipment. I then take a walk around the arena to enjoy the calm before the storm. As I'm doing this, I am also taking mental notes of the playing surface. For starters, the ice surface is wider than what I am accustomed to in North America. Next, I want to be aware of where the benches are and if they will be an issue during line changes. At this arena, the benches are quite long and extend very deep into each end zone.
Once I've done all of that, I head back to the dressing room and have a pre-game chat with the linesmen, Roman and Vasili. We discuss certain rules and situations that may arise, as well as getting on the same page for who will whistle down hand passes, high sticks and pucks that go out of play. After that, it’s on to my pre-game warm-up, including some jump rope, stretches and a light jog. Once it’s all said and done, it’s time to head to the ice.
Being my first game, I was so excited that it was a little difficult to relax at first. Both teams are introduced and line up on their respective blue lines for pre-game introductions. Once the pre-game is finished, it was time for the puck drop. I took a second to take in the moment before skating to center ice for the opening draw. Then off we went!
In preparation for the game, I wrote down certain things to communicate during, such as, “Loose,” “Move it,” “Easy stick,” “Watch the crease” and “Enough.” In the ECHL, there aren’t any issues shouting these phrases, since nearly all the players are fluent in English. For this game, with Germany and Italy, most of the players and coaches are able to communicate in English, but I tried another approach and looked up the translations in both Italian and German. During the first stoppage I had a chance to test it out as an Italian defenseman and a German winger had a quick shoving match. After the whistle I said in a loud, deep tone, "Enough" followed by its translation in Italian, "Abbastanza," and in German, "Genug." Both players stopped immediately, turned to look at me and smiled, then skated back to their benches. I was even complimented by the Italian goalie on my pronunciation. After this sequence, I felt much more comfortable and relaxed.
Following the game, MVPs of the match are announced, with one player from each team selected. After that, the national anthem of the winning team is played and just like that, my first game was in the books. The experience of the game was one I wouldn't trade for anything. I felt great afterward, as we awaited our supervisor Kevin Muench to come down to the room and give his analysis. Once Kevin arrived, Vasili, Roman and I shared our thoughts on how the game went. Kevin was very happy with our effort and said we did a fine job. We discussed positioning, judgment and penalty standards. Following the supervision, the three of us shook hands once more on a job well done.
Tuesday is a day off for the tournament, but not completely for the officials. Instead, we had our IIHF skating tests. All of us met at the arena very early in the morning and hit the ice.
We were split up into referees and linesmen groups. There would be four tests, starting with a forward 40-meter skate, then a backward 40-meter skate. Those were followed by forward, then backward, then forward and then backward through a series of cones. Finally we had the figure-eight drill. This places cones on both end-zone faceoff dots. We must skate from end to end a total of five times. This is the one we dread the most, but we’re thrilled when it's finally over. Afterward, we returned to the hotel to shower, relax and rest before heading to the city center of Vienna.
After a rest, we hopped on a metro for a 10-minute commute to the city center. Once we exited the underground station, I was nearly overwhelmed by the beauty of the city streets. We took in the holiday atmosphere and stopped to have a drink at a Christmas-themed drink stand. We all had Tube Gliihwein, which was hot tea with Bicardi rum added to it – it warmed us up in a hurry.
I have a bachelor’s degree in European history, which meant a city like Vienna felt as if my old textbooks had come to life. We saw the residence where the former kaisers (leaders of Austria-Hungary) lived. St. Stephen's Cathedral was in the center of town. The Cathedral is more than 850 years old, far older than anything I've seen in the U.S. The architecture was so beautiful and the parts of the building covered with thick soot also fascinated me. I learned that these were remnants from bombings during World War II. After walking around for a few hours, we had to get back for a dinner invite from the mayor of Vienna.
The Federation of Austrian officials arranged for a bus to take us to the Waldgrill Restaurant. After brief speeches from the IIHF chairman and president of the Austrian Hockey Federation, it was time to eat. What a feast it was, with several traditional Austrian items including one of my favorites, schnitzel. We all had a fabulous time, sharing more stories and stuffing ourselves with the delicious meal.
The day started again with an early officials meeting with Kevin. We discussed an emphasis on communication and how to stay on top of potential intense situations. After some video clips of the previous game, I went into full pre-game-day mode, just like Monday.
I would be working again with Vasili Kaliada, and this time, the other linesman would be Michael Johnstone, who is from Canada but was here representing Austria since he works in the EBL Austrian League during the season. Ironically, I have worked for several years in the ECHL with Michael's brother, James, so it was a thrill to work with Mike.
The game pitted Norway against Latvia. As I did before, I looked up several phrases that I translated to Norwegian and Latvian languages. Thank goodness I did, because I had to use the word "Easy" constantly in this game. In Norwegian, it’s "Lett,” and in Latvian, it was "Viegli.”
The game was an end-to-end, bruising affair, with constant scoring chances and punishing body checks throughout the game. After a thrilling overtime period, it was on to the shootout. In the IIHF, the shootout differs from North American hockey. Each captain came over to the referee's crease at the end of overtime for a coin flip. Norway, being the home team, had the right to call the toss. They chose tails, but it was heads, and Latvia chose to shoot second. After three shooters, it was still tied up with a goal apiece. It went three more rounds before Latvia finally won a hard fought, intense and all-around great hockey game. To say Vasili, Michael and I were tired would be an understatement.
Just as with previous days, we started this one with an early meeting with Kevin. My game would not be until 8 p.m., so I could go with my usual pre-game routine hours for a primetime game.
I ventured over to the arena to watch a thrilling game between Norway and Kazakhstan – a game that Norway led until Kazakhstan tied it with only 20 seconds remaining. It would go six rounds of a shootout before Kazakhstan came away victorious. With that over, it was time to focus on my game later in the evening.
I joined my linesmen for the game, Sotaro Yamaguchi from Japan and Ally Flockhart from Great Britain for our pre-game meal and warm-ups before it was game time.
The game quickly became a lopsided affair, as Austria jumped out to a 6-0 lead. Sure enough, both teams took unnecessary aggressive penalties after whistles. Thankfully, Ally and Sotaro were on their game, which helped me tremendously and helped keep the game from getting out of control. It ended in a 7-3 Austrian victory.
We all awoke early Friday for a light skate at the arena before another day off. This is our second-to-last full day in Vienna. It seemed like time really flew by, but I suppose that’s what happens when you’re having such a great time.
Around noon, several of us set out for the mall to spend the gift cards we were given at the beginning of the week. I have been to countless malls across the U.S. and Canada, but the mall here in Vienna is beautiful. There were so many unique shops, a wide variety of food, several banks and even a place to get free medical care. After several hours walking the mall, we went back to the hotel to rendezvous with several more officials. We headed back downtown to the city center of Vienna to view its beauty at night, with all the lights lit up for Christmas.
We went into the St. Stephen's Cathedral, and the inside is even more spectacular than I could have imagined. For a building to be that old and still have such unbelievable architecture and detail was beyond anything I had ever seen in person. After that, we returned to the hotel. We ended the night sitting around sharing stories from home and wishing our fellow official, Vasili, a happy birthday.
It's hard to believe this will be the last full day in Vienna and the final day of the tournament as well. After doing some light packing for the next day's flight, it was off to grab a pre-game meal.
Arriving the customary 90 minutes ahead of time, I again tried to live in the moment and take in everything possible for my final game. My linesmen were Michael Johnstone again and Sławek Szachniewicz from Poland. Slawek and I share polish heritage, as he told me my last name, Wilk, translated in Polish, means “Wolf.”
Michael, Slawek and I had a great pre-game meeting, since it was the first time Michael and I had worked with Slawek. He even taught Michael and I a few polish words to help us better communicate on the ice together.
This game had lots of important penalty calls. The first was when Germany was breaking the puck out of their zone. The German defenseman passed it up the wing on the bench side. I kept my eyes on the approaching Norway forward as he went to body-check the German defenseman. As the forward went for the hit, his stick came up and caught the defenseman in the neck. I signaled a delayed call against Norway. As Germany had possession, they brought the puck in Norway's zone. A Norway defenseman then tripped the puck-carrying German player. I whistled the play dead when Norway gained possession and assessed both the high-stick and tripping penalties. It was important that I called both penalties. First, it showed Norway that just because they have one delayed penalty doesn't mean they won't be called for another. Second, it allowed Germany to trust me that, if there was an infraction, I would get it, no matter the situation. Third, it showed both teams that I was on my game and I'm not going to miss one. Lastly, it set the standard for the remainder of the game.
We called a clean and tight game. Once again, it was pushed into overtime and an eventual shootout. Norway completed its comeback – down 3-1 heading into the third – in the shootout, taking home the victory.
All of us would watch the final game and the closing ceremonies of the tournament. We then packed up all of our equipment and went out for a final team dinner, then on to the hotel, since most of us had early flights the next day.
Tag(s): Stripes Newsletter