Erin Riley
Earning Their Stripes

August camp in Vaughan is the go-to place for rookies and advanced officials alike

There’s a common saying: do something you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.

Many Canadians grow up watching hockey every Saturday night, playing shinny at the local rink or competing at various levels of the game. But when our dreams of making the NHL soon become unattainable, the passion is often lost.

However, there is more to the game we’ve grown to love than just goals and assists. Saves and shutouts. There’s an opportunity to grow the game and develop positive memories for future generations. How you ask? When you don the black and white stripes.

Despite the cautionary tales of hockey parents, the consensus about refereeing hockey is that it can be a fantastic way to stay involved in the fabric of our great game. Each year, 100 or more teens, men and women gather at Vaughan Sport Village for a camp that has become the gold standard for referee training. For those who have never been an official, it’s four full days split between classroom time and evening work in actual games. For experienced officials, it’s two to four days of refreshers and upgrades, with veteran officials serving as volunteer tutors for rookies on the ice.

“It’s arguably the most comprehensive training camp for officials in North America and potentially for the world,” says Steve Wallace, the director of operations for the Canadian School of Hockey Officiating. “You eat and drink officiating for 12 hours a day.”

The GTHL’s summer referee camp is different things to different people. For many experienced referees, it can be both a reunion with fellow officials and a chance to shake the rust to get ready for the new season. For others, it can be a stepping stone to working games at higher levels of hockey. And for the uninitiated, it’s a deep-dive introduction to what it takes to be an official.

Here are the five camp options:

  • Quick Start: For those with no hockey referee experience or training
  • Junior Development: For those entering their second or third year as a referee
  • Adult Competitive Edge: For adults with house league experience who want to begin officiating at minor hockey’s competitive levels
  • Best Ever: For seasoned officials looking to thrive at the highest levels of competitive minor hockey.
  • Senior Refresher: For senior officials who want to prepare for the season through a program beyond the standard HCOP recertification clinic.

There are no prerequisites for the Quick Start camp, which accommodates a wide variety of skating levels and hockey knowledge. The camp has drawn beginners from as far away as Italy, Norway, China, and Iran, while others have come in with hefty local hockey credentials.

Normally, participants in Quick Start make their on-ice debuts as linesmen while a more experienced official acts as referee. But every once in a while, an up-and-comer is thrown into an in-game experience as a head referee.

That’s what happened a few years ago when former University of Toronto player Michael Markovic arrived at the camp at age 25. Four years later, on March 7, 2019, the Scarborough native made his NHL officiating debut when the Detroit Red Wings hosted the New York Rangers.

“Finding people we can fast track to make the pros isn’t really our job, but it can happen,” says Wallace.  “The bottom line is we’re not so big that we can’t personalize everybody’s curriculum.”

Wallace would love to see the number of women at the summer camp increased from the usual 10%, and the camp welcomes teenagers 16 years and older. There’s even room for those under 16, under special circumstances.

“We ask that anyone who is under the age of 16 that has never refereed before, first contact a local association and get a commitment to hire,” he says. “This doesn’t have to be a formal contract, just a name and contact number we can confirm has agreed to have them work. We’ve found that we would get younger officials that were eager and competent to start officiating after four days at our camp, but wouldn’t have a rink to work at.”

Get details and register for the 2019 camp, which is set for Aug. 19-22, at Vaughan Sports Village.

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