Hockey’s men in black and white hit the ice in Blue
Published Monday, September 9, 2013 6:54PM EDT
It takes years of training and a lot of skill to make it to the NHL, and it takes the same to make it as an NHL referee.
This week, a lot of those refs are in Collingwood at a unique training camp. They are among the best in the game and just like the players, these NHL referees go through an intense training camp before the puck drops on another season.
“We're the 31st team,” says ref Wes McCauley. “It gets our mind back in the frame thinking about the game.”
Director of Officials Stephen Walkom says they’re in for a tough schedule.
“They have to clear medicals first, then some time in the classroom and power skating on the ice,” he says.
Most of the on and off-ice training is happening at the Beaver Valley Arena this afternoon. Some refs had the rare opportunity to pick up a stick in a scrimmage while others tested their ability to call a game.
The refs have some new rules to learn including no-touch icing before pre-season starts next week.
“Hybrid icing is new to our guys and we'll have a steep learning curve,” says Walkom. “Also if players get into a fight they can't remove their helmets. The NHL has determined it’s unsafe.”
This is the seventh-consecutive year the town has hosted the training camp.
“Blue Mountain has so much to offer for us in terms of team building. There are just excellent facilities here,” he says.
With more than 70 referees and linesmen from across North America and Europe here for the training camp, the mayor says it's a great opportunity for the small community.
“You have a ripple effect of anyone who comes to your community,” says Mayor Ellen Anderson. “One hundred people translate into 1,000 people because they're talking about the experience they have here.”
And though the refs are often heckled during the season, the town has adopted them as their second home team. An autographed jersey is proudly on display in the trophy case at the arena. Hockey fans here are thrilled to see a taste of the NHL.
“It’s a great way to see the NHL,” says fan Christa Casey. “It’s excellent to have the refs out. I mean hockey is hockey.”
The refs will be wrapping up training camp with a hockey tournament, which is open to the public. The puck drops just before 10 a.m. Wednesday at the Beaver Valley Arena.