Whistle stop for Quesnel referees

Quesnel's on-ice officials for the Coy Cup final game were (left to right) Blair Scott, Caden Fanshaw, Tyler Garden, Justin Salmons, and BC Hockey's Ross Campbell. (Frank Peebles photo - Quesnel Cariboo Observer)
Some referees are all smiles, even in the thick of the game. (Frank Peebles photo - Quesnel Cariboo Observer)
Young referees are the future of the officiating side of hockey. (Frank Peebles photo - Quesnel Cariboo Observer)
Taylor Knott squeezes in games as a ref in between his post-secondary studies. (Frank Peebles photo - Quesnel Cariboo Observer)
Delayed call coming in the heat of game action. (Frank Peebles photo - Quesnel Cariboo Observer)

If there’s an opposite of the penalty box, some Quesnel refs just got sent there. They got rewarded by their peers and minor hockey officials for some very sportsmanlike conduct and doing the sport proud.

For the first time since 2019, Quesnel’s on-ice hockey officials were celebrated for their hard work and immeasurable contributions to the game.

Four trophies were handed out this year.

Rookie of the year: Mason Pelletier

Most Improved: Payton Beaudry

Most Dedicated: Logan Lybeck

Unsung Hero: Barry Campbell

“I’m really stoked about it,” said Quesnel’s longtime head referee Frank Gonzalez, excited that the recognition was once again flowing to those who deserve it. “We’ve done it for years. We want to recognize our up-and-coming people.”

It’s a particularly tricky part of hockey, for associations across Canada. Not as many people gravitate to the striped jersey as to the players’ positions. Some players give it a try and realize they don’t see the game or think the game comfortably in those moments of split-second judgement, just because they’ve been around the game for years.

The times are changing quickly and decisively, but traditionally hockey referees might as well have targets on their shirts instead of vertical stripes, for all the verbal and even physical abuse fans, players and coaches have rained down on them. Almost none of it was justified (mistakes happen but are no excuse for abusive behaviour). Much of it was heaped on children, or adult rookies. Recruitment and retention was therefore difficult, from coast to coast to coast, and Quesnel was no different.

There are some who love the sport, and love this unique spot in the game, however. Terry Kirkham, for example, was a referee who hung up the whistle in 2009 but was back on Quesnel ice this year, helping alleviate the post-pandemic shortage of officials.

“All my kids have grown up and moved out of the house, so I was just sitting at home doing nothing,” Kirkham said, although that’s hardly true. He is also the 20-year president of the Quesnel Fun League for players no longer in minor hockey. But that isn’t as physically demanding as a whole game on the ice with no substitute.

“I just wanted to do something that wasn’t sitting in front of the TV,” he said. “I’m a glutton for punishment.”

Taylor Knott, 18, doesn’t have those worries. In fact, he could be accused of being too busy, but he still found a few games to ref when he had some time, and he doesn’t even live in Quesnel anymore. He played rep for nine years, and now is in a Kelowna rec league in between his post-secondary studies.

“I try to get in some games whenever I’m back in town,” he said in the middle of his semester. “This is my reading break, so I was home, and I’m just doing it for the week.”

Nothing feels like a warm, relaxing welcome home than getting yelled at from the stands and berated from the bench, eh?

“You’ve gotta love it; that’s everyone’s favourite thing to do on the weekends,” he laughed. “I just love the game. I’ve done everything up to Roos, now. I played hockey, so I felt I knew the rules well enough to give reffing a try, and a little extra cash is nice.

“This year, we had 26 officials that helped out during the season,” said Gonzalez, pleased with the rebound from the COVID disruptions. “I would like to acknowledge our referee assignment coordinator, Andrea Doherty, for making sure all the games available had officials assigned.”

Those interested in trying out refereeing, please go to the minor hockey website and send an email of inquiry.

READ MORE: The art of officiating

READ MORE: There is a shortage of minor hockey officials across Canada