Hockey teams nationwide work hard all season long to achieve success on the ice and hopefully qualify for the USA Hockey National Championships. For hockey officials (the third team on the ice), the season-long preparation and selection process can be just as tough. Of the roughly 24,000 registered USA Hockey officials in the country, only 275 will have the chance to participate in a Nationals event this year.
Once selected, mental and physical preparation is key to successfully moving from round-robin play to working a quarterfinal, semifinal, or championship game. Despite the personal goals and outcomes, all officials quickly learn it’s the teamwork that leads to a great experience.
The 2016 USA Hockey High School Nationals recently finished in Reston, Virginia, and USA Hockey spoke with Logan Wetekamp (Royal Oak, Michigan), Michael Bontatibus (Zelienople, Pennsylvania), and father-son duo Scott and Logan Gruhl (N. Chesterfield, Virginia) about their thoughts leading up to the event and where they achieved success during the week.
USA Hockey: Was this your first USA Hockey National Tournament?
Michael Bontatibus: No, I have been lucky to have been selected to Nationals four times.
Logan Gruhl: No. This was my third National Tournament. I have been fortunate enough to skate the Tier II 16U’s in Ashburn in 2014, the Tier II 14U’s in Salt Lake City in 2015, and this year’s High School Nationals in Ashburn.
Scott Gruhl: This was my second Nationals. I was fortunate enough to be asked to travel to Salt Lake City last year for the Tier II 14’s.
Logan Wetekamp: This was my first National Tournament.
USAH: How did you react when the invitation arrived?
MB: It’s an honor to be selected. You think of how many USA Hockey officials are out there and such a small percentage get to experience a national tournament.
SG: I was happy to be invited to the high school event in Northern Virginia because it would be the second year in a row that I’d have the opportunity to referee with my 21-year-old son, Logan.
LW: I was extremely excited. The National Tournaments are the premier events in American youth hockey. It’s a culmination of hard work and dedication for teams and officials. I couldn’t wait to make my way to the D.C. area and get to work.
USAH: Did you have any personal goals going into this event?
LG: Yes. To skate my hardest throughout the week, make new officiating friends, and to have fun. All of which occurred!
SG: My only real goal was to do the best that I could and to enjoy the moment. Our management team told us to “do what got you here,” so that relaxed me. I really had a good time on and off the ice.
LW: Ultimately, my main goal going into the tournament was to work the final. The playoff round assignments are based on your performance through the round-robin games and to be awarded the opportunity to work the final means that you were at the top of your game and performed above and beyond expectations going into the week. We are surrounded by some of the top officials in the country and the competition for the playoff rounds is extremely tight, so being chosen for the final is such an honor. You are not only representing yourself or your home district, you are representing all USA Hockey officials throughout the country. I was fortunate enough to achieve that goal at the end of the week.
USAH: What were the biggest challenges you encountered while preparing for the event?
MB: Leaving your family (wife and kids) is always a bit of a challenge for various reasons.
LW: This tournament threw us a little bit of a curveball. We were going to be working games in the four-official system, and a lot of officials have limited experience with it. Making sure I was prepared to work this system was the biggest challenge leading up to the event. I made sure I was prepared by studying the USA Hockey Officiating Manuals. I didn’t want to be in the situation where I was learning positioning in the middle of a national tournament game.
USAH: What were the biggest challenges you encountered during the event?
MB: You’re skating with guys for the first time, so you need to learn how they approach the game. Sometimes it takes a period or two to get in sync.
SG: Jamming 10 games into four days can be challenging. I was proud of myself to be able to line a semifinal, so any aches and pains I incurred during the week were minor in comparison.
USAH: What was it like working and interacting with new officials from other areas?
LG: That is one of the best parts of the entire week. Working and interacting with so many great officials throughout the country is a blast.
SG: It’s always fun meeting and interacting with new officials from across the nation. Referees are a small, close-knit fraternity and the locker room is our sanctuary. There is a camaraderie like a player’s room so it was truly enjoyable for all of the guys.
LW: Initially, I only knew two out of the 34 officials selected for the event. Everybody has had different experiences, and watching how they work their games can help improve your game. It also came with some challenges. It sometimes takes a little time to know exactly how a guy works their game and understand their tendencies. But it didn’t take long for all four guys to be completely in sync with each other.
USAH: What is your fondest memory from the week-long event?
MB: Unfortunately, we had an official sustain a major injury during the event. To see the rest of the team rally around him and step up to cover games for him showed you what a great group we had.
LG: Probably working the Pure Division National Championship game. It was the fastest-paced game I skated all week, and it was decided in overtime by two Minnesota teams that are separated by just 14 miles.
SG: Watching the championship game of the Pure Division, by far. My son was one of the referees in the four-official system and the game was a 1-0 affair late in the tilt. A late penalty call led to a tying goal and an overtime finish. Logan was on top of the call. Being in the right place at the right time and having the confidence and management skills helped him make a tough, sound decision. A very proud moment, knowing your son just made a difficult call in front of a ton of people including many of your peers.
USAH: Now that the season is over, what are your off-season plans?
MB: During the season you’re away from your family a little more than you would like, so I would like to get as much family time in as I can.
LG: Train to get in better officiating shape, and hopefully attend a few officiating camps over the summer.
SG: Family, golf and relaxation. And not necessarily in that order.
LW: I will be taking some time to relax and play some golf. It is important to take time away from hockey to decompress and reset. After some time off, I will be preparing for next season by hitting the gym. Taking some time off is important, but it is also important to be physically ready for the season when it begins and to not experience a setback by using the first quarter of the season to get back in shape.
Tag(s): Stripes Newsletter