They’re out there skating on the ice for as long as hockey players are; they must stand their ground and occasionally get booed for controversial calls on the ice; and they must get in the thick of things during line brawls between teams.
CIHL referees deal with many things on and off the ice.
But for CIHL referee Michael Mehr, who has been officiating for the past 12 years, reffing is more than just making those controversial calls.
“I love being part of the game,” said Mehr. “I love to have a role in it, it’s the best seat in the house to watch a game from.”
Mehr started reffing when he was a teenager after a short stint as a player.
“It teaches you so many important life skills. Officiating is fantastic in teaching you how to make quick decisions, you get conflict management, you get exercise,” he said. “I also think it allows you to build a fair amount of self-confidence that you can handle those situations.”
He temporarily stepped away from officiating to pursue his studies at university, but then returned to the ice when the Smithers Steelheads were formed roughly 12 years ago.
Though travel times between towns has decreased significantly, the action on the ice is very much the same.
“There’s a lot of emotion in the game of hockey and I think it’s one of the main reasons that makes hockey fantastic,” said Mehr, a level three official with BC Hockey.
“Particularly in the CIHL, the guys care about the game and it reflects in how they interact with you on the ice. But I’m convinced it’s the emotion of the moment when you have these disagreements with players that are fairly emphatic.
“It’s emotion of the moment and I discount it as that. At the end of the game, that player and I still have respect for each other.”
But over the years, Mehr has seen a decrease in the number of young officials involved with the league.
“We’re not seeing a lot of continuing good young officials into a good supply of adult officials. We’re good at the minor hockey level, but we could use more young adults that are still in town and we could certainly use more adult referees,” he said.
Sean Raphael, BC Hockey’s referee in chief, said preliminary numbers show there are roughly 150-170 referees in the North, a drop from the 2011-2013 levels when they had just over 200.
“This year in particular, we’ve seen an increase in officials in the south Okanagan and north and south Vancouver Island, yet we’ve seen declines in the north central and northwest,” he said.
“In the North particularly it’s hard to say, in general, we’ve seen various reasons, with some of our young officials, the ones that are progressing from the program from the 16-20-year-old range . . . lots of things whether it be other career paths, schooling, possible re-location for either of those two things. We’ll see a lot of turnover and attrition at those levels due to those things.”
Glyn Doyle, a young official who recently received his level two certification from BC Hockey, officiated his first CIHL game two weeks go.
“It’s more intense than most of the games I’ve ever done. It’s a higher pace and the guys like to talk to you a little bit. I didn’t get too much hassle from the coaches or the players,” said Doyle, who has been reffing with the minor league for the past five years.
“I’d love to continue reffing higher-level hockey.”
According to Raphael, the organization is stepping up efforts to find out why there is a disparity in reffing numbers in certain regions.
One of those ways is through the minor supervision program, where they will send a supervisor to roughly 100 minor hockey associations across the province to provide further education to officials and staff.
As for Mehr, he has taken a small step back from officiating, but his desire to stay in the game outweighs everything.
“I really respect what the guys in the CIHL level bring and I try and return that. I don’t have any agenda to be on the ice other than to be in the game . . . it’s really great hockey,” he said.
There are roughly 4,300 certified officials in the province this year. For more information, visit www.bchockey.net.