When Sylvan Lake’s arena roof collapsed, communities in the surrounding area tightened up their own arena schedules to provide the community with ice time so it could keep its hockey program running.
To pay it back, the community reached out and invited the Zone 7 communities to submit the names of deserving officials in their community for a chance to take part in a clinic that was being offered as part of the Kraft Hockeyville NHL exhibition game.
The clinic, which was taught by four of the “most experienced NHL officials,” saw 11 referees and linesmen take part in the officials’ clinic – and two, Chase Rosland and Clayton Niehaus, were from Stettler.
“It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience to be part of (the) referees session,” Rosland said. “To be out on the ice with four NHL officials was truly amazing.”
Two of the NHL referees running the training camp were from Alberta, and one – Kyle Rehman – was originally from Stettler. The other three were Mike Civk, Tom Kowal and Lonnie Cameron.
“It’s great to see a local from here make it that far,” Rosland noted. “We look up to them like the kids look up to pro hockey players.”
The training camp included both on-ice and off-ice training, and the NHLers got right into the mix, providing each participant with one-on-one Niehaus, who won the Andrew Nibourg Level 1 Official award, was honoured by the chance to learn from the NHL referees just as much as he was to be able to honour the memory of his friend and mentor whose name is on the award he won.
“It was a great honour,” he said. “(Andrew Nibourg) was one of the main refs with Stettler Minor Hockey. The award opened the door to this.”
Having taken part in referee training before, Niehaus thought he knew what to expect from the camp in Sylvan Lake, but was quickly proven wrong.
“There was a lot more than I expected,” he admitted. “I expected a handshake, hello, and off I go, but they were really in depth, helping with footwork and positioning.”
The referees also gave the participants their own personal email addresses so they could contact them with questions, any time.
One of the things Niehaus will be paying attention to going forward is his skating, after Civk pointed out to him that he “skated with his ankles.”
Niehaus plays as a goalie, and the position is very much about ankle skating rather than power. It’s getting to where the player needs to be rather than pushing for long periods.
When he skates out on the ice as a referee or linesman, though, it shows.
“I’m working on my calves now for more strength,” Niehaus said.
Rosland said he, “was glad they could pick out the things we were doing wrong and correct them. I’ve tried to use their methods to improve in the last few games I have done, and noticed the improvement already.”
The classroom instruction was just as valuable, Rosland noted.
“In the class discussion, we learned what it takes to be an NHL referee and work your way through the ranks, which really makes you want to work hard and try get where they are,” he said.
“There are 66 NHL officials,” Niehaus said. “Thirty- three referees, 33 linesmen, out of 40,000 officials in North America. The way they described getting to the NHL was inspiring, though. It’s about hard work. And it makes you want to do it.”
Both Niehaus and Rosland were grateful to the Stettler referee in chief, Doug Baltimore, for giving them the opportunity to go to the Hockeyville officials training, and said they hope they can pass on what they’ve learned to others.