Hockey Weekend Across America: Stars in Stripes

Meet And Greet Puts Young Officials Face To Face With Their NHL Heroes
By: 
Maren Angus

While most young hockey fans his age are following their favorite player’s stats online, Peyton Smith spends his free time memorizing the sweater numbers of various referees and linesmen, the number of NHL games they’ve worked and their first playoff experiences.

So when the 14-year-old official had an opportunity to meet some of his heroes at the Nationwide Arena before a Columbus Blue Jackets game, the butterflies were buzzing in his stomach.

“I was really nervous,” Smith admitted. “I almost felt like I was going to get sick when I went down to meet them.”

Still, like any good student, Smith came prepared with a list of questions for his 20-minute meeting with the officials preparing to work the game between the hometown Blue Jackets and the Buffalo Sabres.

“We were outside the referee’s room and [referee] Tim Peel walked up,” recalled Smith, who gave up playing three years ago to follow his passion to become a referee.

“You know that feeling when you meet someone so popular that your heart kind of sinks? I was just like ‘whoa, that’s him.’”

That may not be the typical reaction that officials receive at NHL arenas, but for aspiring young officials like Smith who are looking to follow in their footsteps, they are role models and mentors.

And that’s why USA Hockey once again provided 27 young officials with an opportunity to meet their hockey heroes as part of Hockey Weekend Across America. Now in its fifth year, the “Meet the NHL Officials” program gives young officials a chance to talk with and learn from those who keep the peace at the highest levels of the game.

“We are looking for that young, grassroots official with passion that has an interest in developing and being the best official they can,” said BJ Ringrose, USA Hockey’s coordinator of the Officiating Education Program. “With this program they can make a connection with an NHL official and find a mentor in the game.”

Young officials Jack Jourdan and Adam Gross took the ice for the national anthem in Charlotte, N.C., while Erika Greenen met NHL officials in Nashville, Tenn.Young officials Jack Jourdan and Adam Gross took the ice for the national anthem in Charlotte, N.C., while Erika Greenen met NHL officials in Nashville, Tenn.

The officials participating in the program were nominated by their local supervisors, and ranged in age from 14 to 18. One notable exception was Erika Greenen, a 26-year-old former player who is in her second year of officiating in Nashville, Tenn.

A native of Naperville, Ill., Greenen moved to Music City after her playing days were done at the University of Wisconsin Stevens Point. But the lure of the game kept calling after she hung up her competitive skates.

“It’s fun to still be in the game now that I can’t play anymore,” she said. “It’s a different view of the game. It’s learning all the rules and interpretations so I’m still growing in the game.

“I guess the sky’s the limit and it’s just applying myself and seeing where it goes.”

A scheduling conflict left Greenen as the lone representative at the meet and greet in the bowels of Bridgestone Arena, but that just gave her more one-on-one time with officials working the game.

“It could’ve been awkward with just me in there,” she said with a smile. “But they were nice guys and they made it fun. It was nice to meet them. When you’re watching the game, refs get a bad rep but they’re really not bad guys.”

Up north in Pittsburgh, officiating runs in the Bilski family bloodlines. Jason Bilski, 18, is following in the footsteps of his father and brother who have been officiating for 20 and eight years, respectively.

“I’ve been around reffing for a long time,” Bilski said. “The hardest part is that I am a player and a ref, and I tend to yell at the refs when I play.”

 

“We are looking for that young, grassroots official with passion that has an interest in developing and being the best official they can”­

—BJ Ringrose, USA Hockey Officiating Education Program coordinator

Bilski’s experience with the officiating crew was unique not only because he met them before the game, he was also invited back down to the locker room during the second intermission.

While the whole experience was surreal, he said the highlight was being on the ice for the national anthem.

“When we were out there for the anthem, we were standing on the ice and you know how players move their legs? Well I was doing that and it wasn’t on purpose,” Bilski said with a laugh.  “I can play a game in front of hundreds of people, but to put 18,000 people in a building and put me in the center of the ice, I was nervous. It was overwhelming.”

For Bilski and the rest of the aspiring young officials who took part in the program in NHL cities across the country, it’s safe to say that this was an experience they will never forget.

“The thing I will cherish forever is the memory of meeting all of them and how professional they were,” said Peyton Smith. “The thing I take away from it is to keep going after it and if I keep trying I will eventually make it someday.”

Maren Angus is a freelance writer in Nashville, Tenn.

 

Issue: 
2016-04

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