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Double OT: NHL looking for graduating players with interest in officiating

Scott Driscoll played hockey at Wilfred Laurier University in Waterloo, Ont. before becoming an NHL official. (Photo by Mike Stobe /NHLI via Getty Images)

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Scott Driscoll played hockey at Wilfred Laurier University in Waterloo, Ont. before becoming an NHL official. (Photo by Mike Stobe /NHLI via Getty Images)

The NHL wants YOU!

That is, if you are a graduating college or university hockey player and are interested in trying to climb the ladder to the big leagues – as an official.

Stephen Walkom, the NHL’s senior vice-president and director of officiating, says the league has embarked on a recruiting program aimed at directing players into the world of officiating. A letter was sent to coaches in the NCAA and CIS asking them to suggest strong candidates who might be interested in becoming officials.

In the letter, Walkom says the NHL is looking for players who are athletic, have a strong skating ability, have a strong understanding of the game at a high level, are passionate about the game, are accustomed to having high expectations placed upon them and have a desire to stay involved in the game.

The NHL hopes to attract enough interest from graduating players to hold an introductory seminar soon after the 2007-08 season has concluded.

“We look at all the guys playing university and college hockey who never think about officiating like the tar sands – they are an untapped resource,” Walkom said. “There is a place for them in the game. We can’t guarantee what level they will make it to, but I can guarantee you that USA Hockey and Hockey Canada will welcome these guys into their officiating ranks.”

It isn’t unheard of for players who reached a high level of hockey to become officials upon retiring. Paul Stewart embarked on a successful NHL career as a referee after 65 games in the World Hockey Association and 21 in the NHL as an enforcer. Dean Morton, currently employed by the NHL as a referee, played one game in the NHL with Detroit in 1989-90 (and scored a goal). Kevin Maguire made it to the NHL as a ref after playing 260 big-league games with Buffalo, Philadelphia and Toronto.

Walkom points out current refs Wes McCauley (Michigan State), Dan O’Rourke (Western League, ECHL), Tim Nowak (NCAA Div. II) and Scott Driscoll (Wilfred Laurier) also played at a high level before becoming professional officials.

Walkom says the NHL has turned to college and university coaches for guidance for a very simple reason.

“The coaches know the men of integrity who are in their room and we believe they are probably the best source to go to who can provide us with strong candidates,” he said. “I think what is important is you have a chance to stay in hockey before three or four years go by in the beer league. Players think they’d never want to coach when they were playing, but suddenly after their playing days are over, they find themselves wanting to coach. It’s the same with officiating. They didn’t think about officiating when they were playing, but now it is an option for them.”

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Walkom points out officiating positions in the NHL – and at other elite levels – are few, but added there are upwards of 70,000 amateur officiating positions and a lot of fantastic hockey played.

“You might be able to get to a higher level than you got to as a player,” he added.

Entry-level officials in the NHL can earn six figures with senior referees earning more than $200,000 a year. But more than earning good money, Walkom hopes to attract the interest of players who simply want to extend their time in high-level hockey. It may be somebody’s ticket to the NHL who otherwise wouldn’t have made it.

“Nobody playing hockey today grows up wanting to be a referee,” Walkom said. “When you look at guys refereeing in the NHL, those guys all wanted to play in the NHL. But somewhere along the way their skill didn’t take them to the next level. But they still made it to the NHL – as officials. We hope to bring guys in who have a similar experience and background to the guys we have.”

Mike Brophy, the co-author of the book Walking with Legends, is a senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor on THN.com. His blog appears Mondays and his column, Double OT, appears Wednesday.

For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.

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