Many of us imagine what goes on in a locker room before a National Hockey League game. The strategic talk, the rituals with putting on equipment, the catching up with league business. It’s the place where some of the best athletes prepare for the physical, mental and emotional battle of a game. In some cases, a team has the advantage of home turf. In other cases, a team has the challenge of unfamiliar ice. However, in yet another case, a team has the challenge of never having a home game.
NHL officials are sometimes acknowledged as the third team on the ice. While they never worry about wins or line-changes, they still use their pre-game time to prepare physically and mentally. It’s the time when they leave their personal to-do lists and family matters behind and work together to make sure each member of the team is ready to get into position, execute sharp judgment and support each other when a partner gets blocked out from play.
So how do the officials prepare? Twenty-six grassroots USA Hockey officials will find out this month during USA Hockey’s 10th annual Hockey Week Across America. During Hockey Week, the entire country will celebrate the success, passion and everything great about the American hockey community. This includes the Meet the NHL Officials program.
We connected with BJ Ringrose, coordinator of the USA Hockey Officiating Program, for a Q-and-A about the Meet the NHL Officials initiative.
USA Hockey: What exactly is the Meet the NHL Officials program?
BJ Ringrose: This program offers the opportunity for young, grassroots USA Hockey officials to meet NHL officials before a game in their dressing room, and then stick around to watch them work.
USA Hockey: That sounds like a great opportunity for these kids.
Ringrose: Absolutely. Officials are no different from players. They develop heroes and mentors among the referees at the higher levels of the game. They watch an NHL, NCAA or USHL game and think, “I want to be that guy!” The Hockey Weekend program gives them a chance to meet their heroes in a familiar informal setting and ask the NHL officials questions about their paths to success and how to advance.
USA Hockey: Have you ever received any feedback from the NHL officials about these meetings?
Ringrose: We correspond a lot with the NHL and NHL Officials Association leading up to Hockey Weekend and we usually get a quick note from some of the officials after the meeting thanking us for the opportunity, and expressing how great the kids are. For the NHL officials, this meeting reminds them of the grassroots levels they developed their craft in.
The NHL officials have shown a lot of support for this program and we appreciate everything the league and officials do to make this opportunity happen.
USA Hockey: So the program is basically a short meeting with the officials and then a free ticket to the game. Is there anything else
Ringrose: In addition to the league and officials, the various host NHL teams have really embraced this program. A lot of them are expanding the program to include tours of the arena, media room and video replay booth. Others are asking the kids to bring their skates and uniform and allowing them to participate in the pre-game skate and anthem.
USA Hockey: So these young officials are allowed to stand with their heroes at center ice during the National Anthem in front of thousands of fans?
Ringrose: Yes, one referee even brought the kids over to the home-team bench for a quick pre-game word with the coach. The head coach shook hands with them; that was fun to watch.
USA Hockey: It’s amazing how much access to an NHL game these kids get to experience.
Ringrose: It’s potentially a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to build serious dedication to officiating in these young referees. While the mentoring and other features of these events are great, the underlying goal is to develop a lifetime official who will give back to the USA Hockey game regardless of what level he or she reaches.
USA Hockey: OK, we’re sold. How do people get a chance to participate?
Ringrose: This year we introduced an online nomination system that allowed parents, officials, assignors, supervisors or anyone to nominate a young grassroots official for this opportunity. In the past, the participants were selected by the local USA Hockey officiating supervisors in the NHL markets. However, this online nomination system has opened up the opportunity for more kids to be considered.
USA Hockey: So what happens to the nominations?
Ringrose: They are forwarded to the district referees-in-chief of the respective officials. The district RIC’s work with their support staff to learn more about the kids and decide who would benefit most from the opportunity. They consider age, experience, attitude, professionalism and officiating goals. Once they identify the participants, they pass me the names and I begin coordinating with the league and teams.
The nomination system for 2018 Hockey Weekend Across America will re-open in October 2017. Please CLICK HERE for more information.