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It starts with Game 1

By Kelly Erickson, 10/24/16, 9:15AM MDT


Establishing the right standard to start the season

When the season ends, they may rest for a few weeks, taking a well-deserved break after skating in 82-plus games. But before long, they’re back in the gym, back on the ice, back to watching video.

Just like the elite athletes need to train and prepare, elite officials need those summer months of training and preparation to be ready for the next season, too. It’s all in an effort to not only improve their performance, but to also set a strong standard from Game 1 through the final game of the year.

“Night in and night out, we always preach that Game 1 is no different than Game 80,” Steve Thomson said. “You want to keep that high standard and what management expects of you throughout the entire season. So from Game 1, not changing that standard is pretty important and keeping it consistent, basically that just comes with experience and the level that you’re at.”

Thomson spent six years with the USA Hockey Officiating Development Program, officiating in the United States Hockey League, the North American Hockey League and pretty much every junior and Tier 3 league in operation at the time. He also spent time with the Southern Professional League, the East Coast Hockey League and the American Hockey League. Last April, he worked the men’s Division II World Cup in Mexico City and he has been assigned to officiate the IIHF U-18 World Championships in Slovakia next April. At 26, he’s already worked hundreds of games at various levels. With that experience, Thomson knows that starting the season strong begins during the summer months and keying in on feedback from his superiors.

“Not more than two weeks off following a season, I start re-evaluating what I could have improved on that past year, both mentally and physically, my strengths and weaknesses,” Thomson said. “I like to be my hardest critic on myself.

“The mental aspect of the game is constant work and effort. I’m constantly digging into the rule book and situations that may have happened, as far as video clips, on where I could improve.”

This process lasts all summer into training camp, up until opening day of the new season. While work gets done in the gym, in the books and watching video, hitting the ice in training camp is an important part of prepping for the season.

“In this business, any game could change your season or even the rest of your career,” Thomson said. “For us, hitting the ice in the preseason, ready to go, in shape and mentally there is paramount to becoming a good official and starting the season off right.”

That ice time in the preseason encompasses everything from knowing the rulebook and getting back into the speed of the game.

Naturally, off nights can happen — referees are human after all. The most helpful way to avoid or minimize those nights is to take the season game by game, situation by situation, according to Thomson.

“To look at the bigger picture and sometimes admit your mistakes to players or coaches can go a long way,” Thomson said. “If you’re humble and honest about how you’re feeling, sometimes they take it a little easy on you and give you that extra bit of relief to take the next situation a little bit better.”

As he mentioned, Thomson tries to be his own harshest critic. Improving his performance or keeping it consistent from the beginning of the season to the end depends on the work he puts in on and off the ice.

“We try to take the points of emphasis that we’re given and the parameters that we’re given and run with them ourselves,” Thomson said. “And tweak here or there based on feedback from a supervisor or watching video, that’s something we’ll do throughout the year to keep things the consistent.”