Thursday, May 31, 2007

Hockey officials finally get a break

Young officials are finally on the same page as young players with respect to furthering their on-ice career. Hockey Canada announced in April that officials will receive scholarship money to help them officiate and further their education at the same time.

The Ken Stiles Officiating Scholarship Awards were named for the late Ken Stiles, who was a president of the Flames Project 75, an integral funding initiative that has benefited Hockey Canada and hockey development for a number of years. Ken Stiles was a farmer, rancher, and successful businessman. He was a key advocate of the junior hockey scholarship programs and worked tirelessly on behalf of Hockey Canada to ensure the going concern of these programs.

The Ken Stiles scholarships will be awarded annually to those who participate in Hockey Canada’s Officiating Program of Excellence. The money will help offset the costs of education to some of Canada’s best and brightest. For 2007, six individuals received $1,000 each, while one received $5,000.

This is a program long overdue. “It really is,” admits Hockey Canada President Bob Nicholson. “We put a lot of emphasis on the player, which we should have. Now, it’s just great that we’re doing something on the educational side for officials. Hopefully, this will grow. Hopefully, we’ll be able to build more and more scholarships and continue to attract new officials to the game.”

The turnover for officials in Canada is huge. A lot of young officials initially get involved to make a little extra money and score a little extra ice time. But in order to attract more officials at the younger age level, such as 17, 18, and 19, Hockey Canada is looking at finding a better way to entice those who have played hockey all their lives to look at officiating as an option to further a career.

The respect factor likely plays a huge role in why someone doesn’t look to officiating. Hockey Canada has also implemented parenting programs to help erase some of that negativity that can sometimes enter a rink.

“It’s all about trying to create a positive atmosphere in arenas in this country,” adds Nicholson. “I think overall, we do a very good job. We certainly still have situations that continue to occur that is a concern. But if we work all the groups together, coaches, players, officials, parents, we can make it a place that everyone wants to be.”

Reagan Vetter is a Saskatoon official and the recipient of the $5,000 scholarship – a gift that will tremendously help offset the costs of growing tuitions.

“To get acknowledgement as an official, to receive a scholarship of this magnitude is a step in the right direction. Not to say that officials have been unrecognized for so long. We recognize the hockey players first, what they go through, and the scrutiny they go through. But we have to keep ourselves in just as tip top a shape, always be a step ahead, be prepared mentally. This isn’t necessarily a day job for all of us. It’s a secondary job, something we obviously enjoy doing.”

According to Paul Carson, Hockey Canada Director, Development, the caliber of Canadian officials is second to none throughout the world.

“We really recognize that our officials work hard to achieve that standard. But we also believe that players, former players that gravitate towards officiating, or even youngsters who start officiating at a young age and stay in it should be able to see some benefits long-term, not just in terms of professional opportunities or paid opportunities, but in terms of recognition for their commitment both academically and athletically.”

The application process is specific to those enrolled in Hockey Canada’s Officiating Program of Excellence. This year’s award pool was from 180 possible officials over a four-year period. Each year, Hockey Canada will look at a new set of 45 officials.

The officials either go to their referee-in-chief in their own branch or contact Hockey Canada for an application package. Their academic performance is also considered, so they must include transcripts. The applications are then scrutinized and the most deserving recipients are then chosen.

Carson sees how key this will be for recruitment. “I believe that you first have to address who the officials are. Establish an understanding, that a young man like Reagan Vetter is a terrific young person to be a role model for all participants. If we have the ability to put their profile front and center, then people can see what development opportunities there are for individual officials. Maybe they’ll have a better understanding of the relationship that exists between coaches and officials, players and officials, parents and officials. My hope is we move in a direction where people see the positive things that we do in all aspects of our sport that is having a tremendous impact on the growth of our game.”


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