Colorado Springs, Colo. – Late in the hockey season, teams and players will toss their gloves in the air, as they claim District championships across the country, celebrating the honor of earning a spot in the Chipotle-USA Hockey National Championships.
As teams prepare to make their way to Chipotle-USA Hockey National Championships sites, other preparations have already begun to assign the officials to work all of the games.
Danny Schleichert (Columbus, Ohio) was one of those officials who received a call that he would be officiating Nationals for the first time, as he was selected to officiate the High School tournaments in Omaha, Neb.
“I was ecstatic to get the call,” said Schleichert, a high school French teacher and referee from the Mid-American district. “It’s something I’ve been working toward. For 10 years I’ve been officiating and to be one of less than 40 officials selected was a great privilege and honor.”
Schleichert said one of his first thoughts and hurdles was making sure that he could take time away from his day job to make the trek to Omaha. He had already used most of his personal time to officiate district and regional tournaments, but thanks to an understanding superintendent, he was able to strike a deal.
“He said as long as I took a lot of pictures while I was there, I could go. I was like ‘I can do that.’ So I took a bunch of pictures and I emailed them to him and talked to him a little bit about the tournament… It was great for him to make that happen and let me go.”
The process of selecting officials to work the National tournaments is a bit different than selecting teams. There are no automatic qualifiers, and no “at-large” bids, so to speak. It is, however, similar to teams in the fact that officials’ performances throughout the year are brought into play.
Schleichert made his Nationals debut in Omaha, Neb.
Each district referee-in-chief (RIC) will work with their support staff to gather a list of candidates for their district to send to the National Championships. Those lists are then sent to USA Hockey’s National Office where a team compiles the complete roster and assigns officials to events.
“The district RICs will give us a list of candidates. For the most part, it will be Level Four officials,” said BJ Ringrose, USA Hockey’s manager of the officiating education program. “The skillset has to be there. The experience level has to be there. They are officials that the RICs feel are going to represent their district well at an event.”
When Schleichert made it to Omaha, he was thrown right into the fire in his first game. He felt a since of nostalgia being on the national stage, and wanted to make sure he did his best to call the game well. Though there were nerves, those quickly went away and he got right into the action.
“My first game, the team scored about 15 seconds into the game. So it’s like ‘wow, okay so this is how this game is going to go,’” he said. “It was just exhilarating to be on the ice, that first game with the referee bands on and just call my game. It was a tight game.”
After that game, along with the rest of the games of the tournament, Schleichert and his crew of officials received feedback from supervising referees at the tournament. He said that was beneficial for him not only in the tournament, but in his overall journey as an official.
“It was really nice to get specific feedback about what we were doing right, what we could work on. I really strived to take that into every single game after that.”
“Every game is supervised,” said Ringrose. “We never want to miss an opportunity to develop and train officials. So, you know, when a mistake is made, we discuss it. When something good happens, we discuss it. And ultimately, we want to turn every little mistake into a learning opportunity so the official can get better.
“These officials are really competitive. They really, really care, and they want to do the best job they can.”
The journey to Nationals was a long one on the ice for Schleichert, and didn’t start with him officiating at a young age. Growing up, he was on the other side of things as a goaltender in hockey and picked up officiating once his competitive playing career came to an end.
Schleichert starting playing in an adult league, and thought he might take up officiating as a hobby and to make a little extra money. Since then, it has grown into a passion.
“I’m going to officiate until they tell me I can’t anymore,” said Schleichert. “I love what I do. I love being out on the ice, teaching them the game and helping them know what officials expect and are going to be looking for so that they can have a better experience on the ice.”
Schleichert’s experience at Nationals will carry with him throughout the rest of his career, and he hopes to be selected in the future as well. For now, he’ll take what he has learned as an official and apply it to his everyday life. He also offered some advice to anyone looking to get into the officiating realm.
“[Officiating] provides an opportunity to grow life skills like time management, scheduling and organizing,” he said. “My conflict management skills have gone through the roof, and that’s applied to my teaching.
“Anyone that’s looking to officiate will benefit from what it has to offer more than just the pay and being on the ice. There’s a lot of great skills that you can acquire as an official and take with you to other aspects of your life.”