When the lights go on at arenas around the Greater Toronto Area, it’s more than just the players on the ice who are aiming to move up the hockey ranks. During any given season, the GTHL employs over 430 officials who oversee the 16,000 games that take place from September to April. Like players, officials often begin their career tending to local games before moving onto professional hockey. GTHL linesman Justin Tang is just one of many who is reaching for that NHL dream.
Now working in the Ontario Hockey League, Tang grew up in the GTHL, starting first as a timekeeper at the age of 12 before becoming a referee when he turned 16.
“I have a lot of fun memories reffing with great role models,” said Tang. “The OHL Cup tournament last year was a highlight as I reffed the gold medal game.”
For young officials in the GTHL today, Tang insists that hard work is the key to success, no matter what level of hockey they may be working at.
“My advice would be to always work hard every single night no matter the level or age group. You never know who’s watching you.”
Despite his success in the GTHL, Tang is grateful for the opportunity to work at the OHL level night in and night out.
“The OHL has been the most fun I’ve ever had on the ice,” said Tang. “The skill level of these kids amazes me every single night. The traveling and comradery is something I’ll never forget.”
Should Tang accomplish his NHL dream, he would join the ranks of former GTHL officials such as Wes McCauley who are seen as veterans in the hockey officiating world. Besides the big show, Tang does eventually see himself coming back to the GTHL level to supervise up and coming officiating stars.
“I owe it to the ref world [to come back to the GTHL] as I myself had a lot of huge role models. They’re the only reason I am where and who I am today.”