19 Harsh Lessons from the Road to the National Hockey Championship


In order to gain the most value and best understand how these principles came to be, I recommend reading them in proper order. Otherwise, use the button below to jump ahead to the index...


why i wrote these principles...

Many people know I lived a former life as an ice hockey official. Fifteen years I spent on the opposite side of the great game we all know and love.

However, few people ever stop to question how the four guys in striped shirts ever made it out onto the ice with superstars like Crosby, McDavid, and Toews. Only when we see an unfavourable penalty call do most people ever notice them.

It’s been nearly fifteen years since it all began.

As it grows into an increasingly distant memory, I’ve found myself thinking more and more about the experience, and how it’s lessons still play a substantial role in my life. 

In any given moment, it’s challenging to reflect on what we're experiencing or to see ourselves with a higher-level perspective. I firmly believe this viewpoint only comes years after we accomplish a significant goal in our life. 

Like many athletes and entrepreneurs who write memoirs towards the end of their careers, seeing the broad picture can only be achieved in retrospect. 

Now, I’m not claiming to be a sports or business star. In fact, far from it! Those men and women are the top 0.1% of the population. Although, after crunching the numbers to in-fact see how many people reach my same level of officiating success, I came to find only 0.7% of those ever do. 

I then thought,

“Hell, that’s pretty damn good!”,

...and decided I would finally write about what I learned and the experiences I had along the way. 

Even if only one person ever pulls the slightest nugget of value from this, I’ll consider it worthwhile. 

 
 

But first: a bit about hockey referees...

Here are several facts and common misperceptions to help set the scene and better understand the intricate world of officiating:

– Generally speaking, the vast majority of hockey officials played the game at some point in their career, however not necessarily at the professional level.

 

– Having attended my fair share of training camps over the years, I can tell you firsthand the officials go through all the same intensive fitness testing and on-ice drills as the players. In fact, the camps are typically operated by the same trainers and conditioning coaches who work with the players. 

 

– The basic levels/ranks of hockey in Canada are as follows:

  1. Minor hockey (all kids age 5–18).
  2. Junior A/B/C hockey (age 16–21), likely go on to college afterwards. 
  3. Major Junior (age 16–21), likely to play professionally afterwards.
  4. Semi-Pro and Professional (age 18+).

 

– In minor hockey, officials alternate between working as a head referee or linesman, however, once at the Junior ranks you must decide to pursue one or the other.

 

– Physical height and size are certainly preferred, especially as a linesman since their job is to break-up fights. However, if you’re on the smaller size, you can still get hired as a referee. I've known guys as short as 5′7".

 

– Rule knowledge is a significant requirement. Each year at training camp officials are required to write a rules test. In the minor ranks these tests are typically multiple choice format, however, at the junior, professional and semi-professional levels these tests become SRD format (State Referees Decision). 

 

– SRD exams are between fifty and one hundred questions, each question presenting a scenario after which you must write step-by-step how to handle the situation, which penalties to assess, then indicate the resuming face-off location. 

 

– In addition, rule quizzes are regularly distributed among officials to test knowledge and keep sharp throughout the hockey season.

 

How these principles originated...

I began officiating at the age of thirteen, dropping the puck for 6 AM peewee games on Saturday and Sunday mornings.

Hockey-referee.jpg

It wasn’t the most natural thing, getting out of bed at 4:30 AM, shovelling the driveway to get the car out, then waking my father to drive me to the rink. I’m pretty sure my other teenage friends were sleeping-in and watching Saturday morning television. However, I wanted a job, and refereeing was the only gig I could legally get (other than shovelling driveways and cutting grass).

I didn’t realize it at the time, but those 6 AM freezing-cold peewee games are where I began building the character and resilience I would so heavily rely on years down the road on route to the National Championship, and in fact, still rely on to this day

Throughout my teenage years, I worked my way up from those 6 AM games to higher and higher levels of minor hockey. I developed rather quickly thanks in-part to my father's experience as a former, high-ranking minor hockey referee. He would watch my games and give me additional supervision and feedback – feedback other officials didn’t have the luxury of receiving. 

By the age of seventeen, officiating was nothing more than a casual side job while I worked a regular part-time job and went to school. I never took it seriously or ever thought it could turn into a career. 

By age eighteen, I was working the top level of minor hockey (Major Midget AAA), with guys ten years my senior.

Many of these guys worked in the various junior hockey leagues (i.e. Junior A, B and C), and Major Junior league (i.e. Ontario Hockey League). Junior hockey paid between 3x and 5x what minor hockey games were paying at the time, so naturally, I wanted to move up. 

I was friends with quite a few of these senior guys, often grabbing a bite to eat and a beer following our minor hockey games. They’d tell me stories from their junior games the previous weekend, and like any young kid, I wanted to roll with the big boys and work junior hockey as well. 

They encouraged me to attend the annual junior tryout camp. Each summer, the junior hockey governing body and referee boss held a camp, inviting prospective officials interested in making the leap up to junior.

Prospects would be assessed over several hours of dry-land and on-ice skating drills, followed by a rules exam. Typically, thirty to fifty officials would compete for between five and ten spots.

It was this first tryout camp where my learning of these principles began. I was young and naive, yet the journey on which I was about to embark would define the character and perspective I still carry with me fifteen years later.

Principle Index

 
Click each principle to jump ahead, or continue reading in proper order below.
 

PRINCIPLE #1

Constructive criticism is the greatest gift you can receive. Don’t take it personally. Instead, use it to your advantage and get stronger. 

 

PRINCIPLE #2

Don’t half-ass anything. The days you feel least inclined to drag yourself into the gym, those are the days you must set new records.
 

PRINCIPLE #3

Be disturbingly over prepared. Always.

 

PRINCIPLE #4

Focus only on what you can control, forget everything else. 
 

PRINCIPLE #5

Ignore the naysayers. Be defiantly persistent. 
 

PRINCIPLE #6

Training is just as much about getting stronger, faster, and smarter, as it is about building character. Every time you hit the gym after a long day, or the books late at night, you're building the character that will eventually take you the final 10% of the journey. The difference between those who succeed and those who fail lies in their character. 
 

PRINCIPLE #7

Always surround yourself with people more skilled than yourself, then, shut the hell up and take notes. 
 

PRINCIPLE #8

Recognize your success will inevitably put others on edge. Everyone is your friend until you pass them on the ladder. As long as you’re competing on the same ladder, remember: you have no friends, only acquaintances.
 

PRINCIPLE #9

Don’t let the fear of others prevent you from elevating your game. Their fear is their problem, not yours.
 

PRINCIPLE #10

Don't compromise your results in adherence to social pressures. If you truly want something you have to be perfectly fine creating your own set of rules and stepping outside the constructs of social norms. 
 

PRINCIPLE #11

To achieve anything one must first expect nothing. 
 

PRINCIPLE #12

Understand that those who succeed have paid a significant cost to be there, so quit whining and start acting. 
 

PRINCIPLE #13

With each win on the road to success, it’s perfectly acceptable showing minimal emotion. To the average bystander it may seem as though you don’t care, but to the trained eye (and to those who matter), they will understand. It’s entirely fair (if not necessary) to be so intensely focused you look like an emotionless crazy person to outsiders. 
 

PRINCIPLE #14

Be a rabid dog, but don’t forget to refill your tank. 
 

PRINCIPLE #15

When leading a team into battle you absolutely must explode onto the battlefield. Anything less and your team will undoubtedly fail. 
 

PRINCIPLE #16

The catapult of success will bring outcomes you never thought possible. Prepare for the unexpected.
 

PRINCIPLE #17

Forget the box. There is no box. Always act and think on your terms. Boxes are merely a representation of the limitations of others. Let your abilities determine the boundaries of the box.
 

PRINCIPLE #18

Always give something back. More important than anything you can personally achieve is what you leave behind for others.
 

PRINCIPLE #19

Never let any single job or role define who you are. Life is scarily short and can be gone tomorrow. Take time to enjoy all aspects of life and don’t get fooled into to thinking you’re one dimensional. 

 

The Principles, and How They Came to Be

Principle #1:

Constructive criticism is the greatest gift you can receive. Don’t take it personally. Instead, use it to your advantage and get stronger. 

Referee-determination
 

I believe there are three types of people in this world:

  1. Those who are told they can’t do something, accept it, and never take action.
  2. Those who are told they can’t do something, refuse to accept it and still don’t take action. 
  3. Those who are told they can’t do something, accept it and take action to correct it.

After that first tryout camp I thought for sure I was a shoe-in. I was friends with so many guys already working the junior ranks, several of whom were going to put in a good word for me.

Oh, how naive I was. Little did I realize, no matter how “popular” I might have been among the other staff, it wasn’t them who made the final hiring decision. 

Following the camp, an email went out with the list of hires and cuts. As sure as I was of getting hired my name landed on the cut list. I was unquestionably discouraged and confused. 

Looking back at the three types of people in this world, I knew the only way forward was to be number three – accept reality and take action to correct it.

So I called the referee boss the following day and asked for any particular reason why I didn’t make the cut. 

It was simple, he said, I wasn’t a good enough skater. I thanked him again for his time and feedback and told him I looked forward to trying out once more the following year. 

Whether or not I thought I was a good enough skater wasn’t what mattered. What mattered was him thinking I was a good enough skater, and clearly, I wasn't.

With this feedback in mind, I could now take action to correct my skating.

Back to Principle Index

Principle #2: 

Don’t half-ass anything. The days you feel least inclined to drag yourself into the gym, those are the days you must set new records.

Hockey-Gym-Determination.jpg
 

With my new goal of becoming a better skater in one year, I sat down and made a strategy for the following twelve months, week-by-week leading up to next year’s tryout camp. 

I spoke with guys who were incredibly strong skaters, asking their advice on training techniques and routines. I sought out people who already possessed the skills I wanted to develop and then attempted to double-down on the methods which brought them the most success

My training routine for the next twelve months was threefold:

  1. Weight-training and cardio in the gym (2-hours, 2-days/week). 
  2. On-ice power skating and drills (1-hour, 2-days/week).
  3. Skating sessions with a professional skating coach (1-hour, 2-days/week).

While going to university full-time (and working a part-time job) my social life for the next twelve months was nonexistent, to put it mildly. 

Saturday nights often meant officiating a hockey game in the evening, followed by a late-night weight training session in the gym.

Sunday afternoons consisted of skating uphill on a treadmill followed by plyometric training with my skating coach until I'd almost vomit. If you’ve ever been on a skating treadmill, you know what I mean! My skating coach was a former Olympic speed skater, and she was tough as nails. As much as it hurt in the beginning, I learned to love getting on that treadmill. It never got easier, but I certainly got stronger. 

With ice time rentals costing more than $100/hour I often had to improvise. The local arena held public skating on Wednesday and Friday evenings from 8 PM until 9:30 PM. For only $5 I’d show up at 8:45 PM seeing as most people had left by 9 PM, and for the next half-hour, I’d have the entire rink to myself, skating drills up and down the ice until the Zamboni driver kicked me off. 

Lastly, since Ottawa is a stone throw across the river from Quebec, the final piece of my training regiment was to apply and work in the Gatineau officiating program (in addition to working on the Ottawa side).

Working on both sides simultaneously, however, was frowned upon on the Ottawa side – if you lived in Ottawa, you were to work only Ottawa hockey. 

Thankfully, I had previously worked a summer exhibition game with one of the most senior supervisors and well-respected officials in the Quebec league – Marc Lafontaine. Marc would become a valuable mentor over the subsequent years. He saw how dedicated I was to improve my skills, so he convinced the Gatineau officiating association to give me a shot (regardless of the political red-tape on the Ottawa side). 

Speaking minimal French, I attended the Gatineau training camp and passed my rules exam. Even though I had already certified on the Ottawa side, I still had to get certified on the Quebec side.

By working in both leagues, I now had the benefit of even more supervision, and the opportunity to work with dozens of extraordinarily high-level and disciplined officials, some of which still work in the NHL today. 

The distinction between the Ottawa and the Quebec side was the vastly superior level of seriousness and professionalism each French official brought to the rink. Even at the peewee ranks, the Gatineau officiating program treated every game like the Stanley Cup Final, and the effects were noticeably visible in the calibre of their officials. 

Looking back, I can’t thank Marc enough for going to bat for me. No success is ever achieved without the help of others, and Marc's support was no-doubt a significant turning point in my development.

I also can’t highlight enough the importance of having a great mentor.

Experience is the number one asset we can’t prepare for, so it's critically important to find a mentor and consult them regularly.

I hindsight, I realize I was perhaps doing myself a disservice by overtraining: 7-nights per week, either working hockey games or training in the gym, but I was young and didn’t know better. I had a clear goal in mind and wasn’t going to let anything stand in my way. 

Back to Principle Index

Principle #3:

Be disturbingly over prepared. Always. 

NHL-referees-Checklist.jpg
 

Fast forward six months and the hockey season was winding down. April had arrived and the summer patio season was underway. I now had four months until tryout camp in August. 

This is the time of year when most guys hang up their skates in exchange for beer and BBQ. As tempting as it was, I knew the importance of staying focused during this final stretch. Only four months remained until tryout camp. 

My university semester wrapped at the end of May and all my old friends from high school were now home for the summer. Opting for skating drills in a cold hockey rink on Friday nights wasn't always my first choice as a young 19-year old, but I could see the finish line only two months away and wasn’t going to let anything sidetrack my progress. 

In addition to off-ice and on-ice drills, tryout camp involved a rules exam. For these final four months leading up to training camp, I made it my mission to know the hockey rulebook inside-and-out

To do this, I converted the entire rulebook (more than five hundred rules and case study situations) into flash cards, with questions on one side and answers on the other. 

There are ten sections in the Hockey Canada rulebook, each section having between thirty and fifty sub-sections. Putting together the stacks of flashcards was a monumental task.

Furthermore, unlike minor hockey rules exams, which are multiple choice, exams at the junior hockey level (and above) are SRD format (State Referees Decision).

Recall, SRD exams are between fifty and one hundred questions, each question presenting a scenario after which you must write step-by-step how to handle the situation, which penalties to assess, and then indicate the resuming face-off location.

For any armchair referees, I highly encourage you to try an SRD exam. I imagine you’ll gain a new-found respect for the guys doing the job on the ice!

The final adjustment I made to my training regiment ahead of tryout camp was my on-ice skating sessions. As convenient as $5 public skating was, I wanted more ice time to practice the drills I’d be tested on at camp. 

Thankfully, students at Carleton University got a discount on ice rentals at the campus hockey arena. For $75/hour I rented three one-hour ice sessions during the final two weeks leading up to training camp. 

I recalled each of the skating drills from the year prior and was able to develop a mock training camp, mimicking each skating test. With a stopwatch in hand, I could track my progress from the previous year. 

When tryout camp finally arrived, I had been practicing these drills for weeks, whereas most guys showed up having not skated since the end of the previous hockey season four months earlier. 

It was now time to put my training over the past twelve months into action.

Back to Principle Index

Principle #4:

Focus only on what you can control, forget everything else. 

Referee-Focus-Lens.jpg
 

There are a few key secrets my father taught me growing up when it comes to getting noticed at training camps – for example, always be the first person leading each drill. But for me, I wanted to take my performance to a whole new level. 

The previous year I learned playing politics and being popular was not a reliable way to achieve my goals. I never understood why certain guys insisted on playing the political game rather than developing their skill.

The issue with “playing politics" is you’re always putting your fate in the hands of someone else

They are the ones who decide whether or not you get the job, whereas developing your own set of skills is entirely under your control. Thankfully, I learned this lesson early. 

I didn’t want my fate to be out of my control. I was going to decide whether or not I got the job, and the only way for that to happen was to be so damn good they couldn’t ignore me.

Having led each drill throughout the camp, the final drill was a skating race. 

Two guys would line-up on opposite side of the ice along the red line. The drill instructor then blows his whistle at which point each skater races against the other for three laps. The winner is determined by the person who completes three laps and crosses their red line first. 

  Lining up on opposite side of the ice, three laps around the ice. 

Lining up on opposite side of the ice, three laps around the ice. 

Before the races began, the scouts and referee bosses who were watching the camp from the bleachers, brought down a list of race pairings for the drill instructor. If there were two officials relatively close in skill level, this would undoubtedly determine who possessed the upper hand

I remember being the final pairing to race. I suppose this worked to my advantage because I had more time to rest, but then again, so did the other guy. 

The other guy, however, (whose name I won’t mention) wasn’t one of the other prospects attending the camp. Rather, because there was an odd number of camp attendees, I got paired with the drill instructor himself, who at the time, was one of the top officials at the junior hockey level and had worked the playoff finals the year prior.

I remember lining up opposite this guy who was ten years my senior, had worked hundreds of high-level junior games and was a veteran in the league. As intimidating as it was, in my mind, it was merely another empty hockey arena on a Friday evening trying to set a new personal time record. 

He was an exceptionally strong skater, and as the whistle blew, he no-doubt exploded off the starting line. Having skated this drill dozens of times before I knew my strategy for each lap and every corner.  All I had to do was execute my game-plan to the best of my ability.

After getting up to speed around the first corner, I settled into a long, powerful stride – something my Olympic speed skating coach taught me well. Just like you see on TV, professional speed skaters know it’s not about how fast they move their legs, but instead, the technique of each stride and the shifting of power from front to back. 

As I completed the first lap, my legs remained strong and full of energy. I accelerated into my next turn getting even lower and injecting more power into each stride. 

By the time I came around to finish my second lap I could feel the lactic acid beginning to accumulate in my legs, but when I looked ahead, I could see the instructor a mere half-lap ahead of me. 

As I began my third and final lap, I remember locking eyes on the back of his jersey and slowly reeling him in, stride-by-stride. 

As I came around the final corner, I was directly on his tail. Coming out of the corner I cut to the inside and shot up alongside him. We were neck-and-neck as we crossed the red line, but he had yet another half-lap to go – his finish line was on the opposite of the ice. 

Over the course of three laps, I managed to catch my opponent who started on the opposite side of the ice. An opponent who, in the eyes of the scouts, was one of their best skaters and most prominent officials in the league. 

Now, there’s much more to being a good official than skating ability alone, but in addition to being the only official who scored 100% on his rules exam, it was safe to say my performance could not go unnoticed. 

Unlike the email I received the year prior, the day following training camp my phone rang. 

The same boss who told me just one year before I wasn’t a strong enough skater was calling to welcome me aboard as the newest member of the junior officiating staff. 

Back to Principle Index

Principle #5:

Ignore the naysayers. Be defiantly persistent. 

Referee-Goal-Persistence.png
 

We all fail, it’s inevitable. However, when trying something for the first time, don’t let those who failed before convince you of the same fate. 

Around the same time as tryout camp in August, it was announced Ottawa would play host to the Telus Cup National Championship the following Spring. 

For those unfamiliar with the Canadian hockey scene, the Telus Cup is the National Midget Championship, featuring the best players age 16-18, who will move up and play in the Major Junior ranks the following season. 

Having worked my way up through the minor hockey ranks, and now being hired in the junior ranks as a linesman, I decided to throw my hat in the ring. Not expecting anything of it – at most, an opportunity to gain additional supervision and develop my skills over the following season. 

Of the one-hundred-and-fifty officials who submitted their names for consideration, the year-long selection process would see a supervisory committee narrow the list over the course of fifty-four regular season games, followed by regional playoffs and finally the Provincial Championship, ultimately selecting four head referee’s and eight linesmen to work the National Championship.  

In addition to on-ice supervision, there was dry-land fitness testing and various SRD rule exams. With the Telus Cup televised on national television, the local officiating governing body knew they had to select the absolute best officials for the job.

I vividly recall sitting in the room following a summer rec league game which I was officiating with a very senior-level referee. He asked me if I was going to throw my name in the ring for the Telus Cup. I said, "Absolutely!” However, when I told him I was going to put my name in as a head referee, he began to give me a list of reasons why I shouldn’t.

Recall, in minor hockey, the officials alternate between working as a head referee or linesman, however, at the junior level you must choose one or the other.

Being 5′9," I decided to pursue officiating as a head referee, knowing I was too small to advance as a linesman. 

In junior hockey, everyone gets hired first as a linesman, and after several seasons of experience typically move up to become a head referee. 

Knowing I wanted to become a head referee at the junior level, I figured this would be an excellent opportunity to start honing my skills and benefit from the additional supervision. 

As my senior colleague pointed out, however, there were approximately two-dozen more senior guys than I who had already been working as linesmen in the junior ranks for more than three years, and they were the heavy favourites to be selected as the head referee’s for the Telus Cup. 

Going against his advice, I decided to keep my name in the ring as a head referee and move forward. Worst case scenario I would gain invaluable experience and learn from some of the best guys in the business! 

Back to Principle Index

Principle #6:

Training is just as much about getting stronger, faster, and smarter, as it is about building character.

Every time you hit the gym after a long day, or the books late at night, you're building the character that will eventually take you the final 10% of the journey.

The difference between those who succeed and those who fail lies in their character. 

Race-finish-line
 

The first test came not long after the junior tryout camp, approximately one month later, where each of the one hundred and fifty officials who submitted their name for consideration had to pass a strict fitness test.

From that group of one hundred and fifty, the supervisory committee would determine a short list of twenty-five officials to work regular season games over the coming season.

Thankfully, many of the off-ice fitness tests were comprised of the same elements I trained for in preparation for the junior tryout camp, so I mostly maintained my same training regiment. Unfortunately, there was one test element which was not part of the junior tryout camp: hard running. 

I absolutely hate running, and the test was a two-mile endurance run, similar to the APFT (Army Physical Fitness Test). The time to beat was 16-minutes or less. 

For the next three-and-a-half weeks ahead of the fitness test I spent my evenings down the road at the school running track with a stopwatch, trying to shave minutes off my time.

Even though I was in strong physical shape from my skating treadmill and on-ice workouts, running is entirely different, and my body hated it

Pounding the pavement night-after-night I could feel the toll it was taking on my joints and lower back. As much as I hated running, I had to learn to be comfortable living in discomfort. By the end of three weeks, I was able to get my initial time down from 17.5-minutes to just under 16-minutes. 

When test day finally arrived, I wasn’t the fastest person on the track, but when it came to beating the 16-minute benchmark, I came in just under 15-minutes. 

The painful nights at the school track proved especially valuable. 

Back to Principle Index

Principle #7:

Always surround yourself with people more skilled than yourself, then, shut the hell up and take notes. 

Referee-Notebook.jpg
 

Throughout the ensuing regular season, I stayed consistent in my training regiment. While working one junior hockey game per week in my new role as a linesman, I would also officiate one or two midget hockey games as a head referee.

University had also resumed for the semester, yet I insisted on maintaining one day per week on the treadmill with my skating coach, and two or three sessions per week of weight training in the gym.

Looking back, I don’t regret missing out on the 'university experience.' I simply had other priorities at the time. Unlike most students who attended frat parties, had time for dating, and built new friendships, my "frat brothers” were the guys I spent weekends with driving to hockey games. 

Even though I was typically the youngest guy in the room by at least five years, it was this constant exposure to more experienced mentors which I believe played a fundamental role in fast-tracking my development. 

It was around this time I developed my 'playbook' – a large notebook I carried to all my games. In my playbook, I’d take notes from each of my supervisions, write down advice, and record observations from working with other, more senior officials. 

When an officiating crew receives a supervision, the supervisor comes down to the dressing room following the game and gives each official feedback on what they did well and how they can improve. I made sure not only to write down my own feedback but the feedback given to others as well.

I figured if I could apply the constructive feedback given to others, I could avoid making the same mistakes myself, therefore drastically shortening my learning curve. 

Throughout the season I gathered dozens of pages of advice and feedback. My strategy in the room before each game was to take one element from my playbook and actively focus on improving it throughout the game until it became automatic muscle memory. Next game I could concentrate on something different, and so on. 

Anyone who ever worked with me will attest I was usually the quietest guy in the room. By listening to the feedback of others and actively applying it to my own game I was able to maximize my development in the shortest amount of time. 

Back to Principle Index

Principle #8:

Recognize your success will inevitably put others on edge. Everyone is your friend until you pass them on the ladder.

As long as you’re competing on the same ladder, remember: you have no friends, only acquaintances.

Hockey-referee-ladder
 

As each hockey season nears its end, officiating managers typically begin to shortlist officials for the final ten games. Since certain teams are fighting for playoff position, officiating managers want to ensure no games are decided by officiating mistakes, thus tend to rely on their most senior officials. 

Following the conclusion of the regular season, yet another round of cuts are made in selecting the roster of officials to work the first round of the playoffs, and subsequent cuts each round thereafter. 

Being a rookie linesman in the junior ranks I did not expect to make it through to the first round of playoffs, and I didn’t. However, I was quite happy being the only rookie to work all the way until the end of the regular season. 

With my junior season now behind me, I could focus my attention solely on the Midget National Championship which was beginning to heat up. 

Similar to the junior league, the Nation Championship supervisory committee selected a shortlist of officials to begin working the regional playoffs. Of the twenty-five officials who worked the regular season, the committee cut the roster down to fifteen officials for the playoffs. 

Up to this point, everyone knew who the "favourites" were – the dozen or so senior guys who had already been working junior hockey for several years. I was a mere twenty-year old hanging with guys in their late twenties and early thirties, hoping to pick up a few tips along the way. 

I remember receiving a phone call in the days following the conclusion of the regular season. It was the head of the National Championship selection committee, and he was calling to let guys know whether or not they made the cut to work playoffs. 

Ready to thank him for the opportunity, I couldn’t believe my ears when he said I had been shortlisted to work the regional playoffs. This was utterly beyond my wildest dreams, and at first, I thought he had called the wrong number! I thanked him for his vote of confidence and assured him I wouldn’t let him down. 

Throughout the week-long break between the end of the regular season and start of playoffs, I maintained my strict training regiment, and doubled-down on my rule study with additional quizzes, multiple times per day. 

Before the start of playoffs, there's typically a general meeting for the chosen officials to go over any last-minute housekeeping items and issues. I remember showing up to this meeting not knowing what to expect. 

Each of the senior guys I had worked with all season long, who were quite helpful in sharing their knowledge and answering my questions, I now couldn’t help but notice they were somewhat on edge.

I felt as though multiple people in that room didn’t agree with me being there, and their body language indeed showed it. 

I remember leaving that meeting and on the drive home realizing I had no real friends in that room, only acquaintances

Back to Principle Index

Principle #9:

Don’t let the fear of others prevent you from elevating your game. Their fear is their problem, not yours.

NHL-referees-run.jpg
 

With playoffs about to start, I knew I couldn’t spend my mental energy focusing on what others were thinking or saying. Quite honestly, I was more worried about screwing up an important penalty call and being booed off the ice!

Several of the other officials were visibly on edge since things weren’t going 'as expected.' In their minds, everyone knew who was going to make it past each round of cuts, and there was no point trying to fight it. 

Regardless of what was “expected," my goal was to show up 100% of the time and bring 110% effort. As long as I did, I'd be content letting the bosses upstairs decide my fate. Anyone else who had a problem with it…well…it was their problem, not mine

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Principle #10:

Don't compromise your results in adherence to social pressures.If you truly want something you have to be perfectly fine creating your own set of rules and stepping outside the constructs of social norms. 

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We’ve all heard the term “pre-game routine,” and in the world of hockey, the officials are no different. 

Throughout the regional playoffs, I began to observe how other guys prepared themselves ahead of big games. To my surprise, many of the senior guys didn’t seem to take it too seriously. 

Perhaps this was because they had more experienced and felt comfortable just showing up to work the game, but for me, I prepared for each game like an event of religious proportions. 

The morning before a game I’d ensure to have a moderate breakfast followed by 1-2 hours of playbook review and rule study. 

By early afternoon, approximately 6-hours before the game, I’d have a big, carb-forward lunch, followed by some mild relaxation, watching television or catching up on school work. 

1.5-hours before leaving for the game I’d have a 45-minute nap, after which I'd have 45-minutes to pack my gear, make a coffee and put on my suit before heading out the door. 

I was always one to arrive at the rink early, however, not too early. 90-minutes ahead of puck-drop was ideal, any longer and I’d get antsy.

With 90-minutes remaining, I could walk around the arena, chat with a few people, go over any last minute items from my playbook, and sip my coffee before starting my pre-game warm-up. 

My pre-game warm-up began 40-minutes ahead of puck drop and involved 10-minutes on the stationary bike followed by 10-minutes of light stretching. 

At the 20-minute mark I’d begin putting on my gear, and with 5-minutes to go my crew would be dressed and ready to hit the ice. We’d discuss any last-minute issues or questions which may have come from the previous game, and reviewed the game sheet to ensure everything was on-point.

When the clock reached 0:00 we’d hit the ice. 

Now, as I mentioned, everyone is different when it comes to pre-game routines, but for those who seemingly made little or no attempt to prepare (I remember a guy once eating a big greasy poutine 20-minutes before stepping on the ice!) that was their prerogative. 

On several occasions, I’d have other officials joke about the rigidity and discipline of my pre-game routine, but regardless of what everyone else was doing (or saying), I realized I couldn’t adjust my methods (or compromise my game) to suit the needs of others. If they didn’t adequately prepare, it was their issue, not mine.

Many times in life we are subject to social pressures, especially from those senior to us. As awkward and painful as it may be, conforming to the social forces around us (at least in my experience) almost always inhibits progress and the probability of our success. 

I realized: nothing new was ever created by following the lead of others. If I genuinely wanted to achieve something I'd have to be perfectly fine creating my own set of rules and stepping outside the constructs of social norms. 

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Principle #11:

To achieve anything one must first expect nothing. 

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As the regional playoffs came to a close, it was now time for the National Championship selection committee to narrow the officiating roster from fifteen down to eight ahead of the Provincial Championship. 

Once again, I did not expect my name even to come close to making the cut. In my mind, the race was on between the other officials, each five to ten years my senior. 

In hindsight, I realize my lack of expectations are what likely helped me stay focused, and keep my foot firmly on the gas pedal. 

Unlike each of the senior guys who were told all season long they were a shoe-in, and firmly held this belief in the mind, I quietly stuck to my pre-game routine and training regiment knowing I was the undoubted underdog

By having this sense of expectation in their minds, I believe they let their on-ice performance and pre-game preparations wane (perhaps even subconsciously).

As I’ve since come to learn, this is true with anything in life – the expectations we hold in our minds directly affect our performance and subsequent success in achieving our goals

The blind spot, however, occurs when we fail to detach our ego from the situation and objectively weigh our expectations against reality. It’s not always the easiest or most comfortable thing to do, but when done effectively, it can mean the difference between success or getting caught-up in an ego-driven false expectation which will inevitably lead to our demise. 

To my amazement, when then call came to announce the final eight officials selected to work the Provincial Championship, the name Matthew Wilson was among those chosen.

After a brief moment of excitement and disbelief, I dove even deeper into my regiment of religious preparation. The stakes just went up tenfold, and shit was now getting real. 

Already miles beyond my wildest dreams I knew I had a job to do, and I wasn’t going to let this opportunity slip away.

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Principle #12:

Understand that those who succeed have paid a significant cost to be there, so quit whining and start acting. 

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As chatter and disbelief among the officiating community were now greater than ever, I kept my head down and prepared for each of my Provincial Championship games just like any other. 

The fact a rookie referee was one of the eight remaining officials from an initial group of one hundred and fifty, was undoubtedly a sore spot for many. However, I had worked incredibly hard over the past two years to develop my skills, and I firmly believe the selection committee could see it in my performance.

The referee bosses put their trust in me and gave me the opportunity to advance as long as I continued to execute my job successfully. 

Looking back, I now realize the considerable pressure the committee must have been under to forego the selection of numerous senior, proven officials, in place of a young, inexperienced (yet incredibly determined) rookie. Their reputation was on the line as well, and I thank them for giving me the opportunity to compete, night-in and night-out. 

To the dismay of the senior guys who were unhappy with my selection, I believe they failed to realize that my success was not due to favouritism or plain luck. I firmly believe there’s no such thing as overnight success. Rather, with every success there is an equally-weighted cost – a cost most outsiders never see. 

The more successful someone becomes, the more they’ve given up in other areas of their life. There are only so many hours in the day, and everything in life has a balance. 

I refuse to falsely assume someone is a “natural,” or overnight success – this simply isn't the case. 

Was Bill Gates born knowing how to program a computer? Was LeBron James born knowing how to shoot a basketball?

Every skill in life has to be learned, and everyone who possessed great skill has paid a high cost to acquire it. LeBron James, I’m sure, opted to spend his evenings and weekend shooting hoops late into the night rather than socializing with friends. 

Hate it or love it, no success comes without cost; the greater the success, the greater the cost. There’s no other way. 

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Principle #13:

With each win on the road to success, it’s perfectly acceptable showing minimal emotion. To the average bystander it may seem as though you don’t care, but to the trained eye (and to those who matter), they will understand.

It’s entirely fair (if not necessary) to be so intensely focused you look like an emotionless crazy person to outsiders. 

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As the Provincial Championship came to a close, it was once again time for the selection committee to make the final round of cuts. 

What started with one hundred and fifty prospective officials at the beginning of the season was now being reduced to a mere four head referees to represent the entire Ottawa regional officiating program, consisting of hundreds of members, including officials, managers, and administrative executives (not to forget the thousands of players, coaches and parents). 

The country would be watching, and the reputation of the entire organization would be under a microscope. 

Up to this point, I felt my performance at the Provincial Champion was strong, having no significant issues or areas of concern. My supervisions were sound, and I had not suffered any rule errors. However, I was five to ten years junior each of the other officials, had only worked a single season as a linesman in the junior ranks and was the only person to have never worked a junior hockey playoff game. 

I was sure my train was coming to the end of the line, and I felt happy starting my summer vacation knowing I left every ounce of effort on the ice. It was a learning experience unlike any I could have ever imagined, and I was incredibly thankful for the opportunity. 

Once again, the phone rang…

As usual, I expected to hear something along the lines of,

“Matthew, you've done a great job up to this point, and we are all incredibly impressed with your performance. Unfortunately, you will not be moving on to the National Championship. We thank you once again for your continued effort and look forward to seeing you back next season.”

The logical side of my brain prepared for this, however, my emotional, optimistic side remained hopeful, feeling I might have a shot. 

When the officiating boss shared the news that I was one of the four final officials selected to work the National Championship I remember having a particularly unusual feeling of calm come over me.

Unlike each of the previous phone calls, where I was widely beyond belief, this time I simply thanked him for putting his trust in me and assured him I wouldn’t let him down. 

Mentally, I had entered such an intense state of flow over the past few weeks, being so focused on the Regional and Provincial Championships, my inner state was merely to buckle down and continue making each step forward. As I recall, my response was quite minimal, 

“Excellent, thank you very much. See you at the rink.”

I’ve always had trouble showing my emotion, and this time was no different. However, the referee boss (a former high-level performer himself) understood my intensely committed state of mind, and my on-ice performance showed it. 

Actions always speak louder than words, and over the years I’ve met my fair share of people who love to talk a big game. This message goes out to all my fellow introverts: 

It’s not what you show on the outside. It’s what you bring on the inside – external emotion is a cheap party trick. 
Don’t worry if people look at you like some stone-faced zombie. What truly counts is the relentless fire burning deep inside – I know you have it, you know you have it. Let it show in the performance of your work and the rest will take care of itself.

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Principle #14:

Be a rabid dog, but don’t forget to refill your tank. 

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I suppose the beginning of my relentless attitude in the pursuit of my goals can be traced back to something my father taught me at a very young age. 

I recall one particular hockey practice around age seven or eight. My father, who coached my minor hockey team growing up, was running a drill on battling for the puck in the corner. 

We’ve all seen the intense battles on TV, sometimes involving numerous players tied-up in the corner of the rink as they battle back and forth for possession of the puck. 

On the ride home from practice, he told me the single most important thing about puck battles which has intensely stuck with me to this day. He said, 

“When you go into that corner, you go in like an absolute rabid dog going after a bone, and you don’t come out or give-up until you have it.”

This mentality deeply resonated with me and has stuck with me to this day. It was the beginnings of an intense focus and determination I would later see flourish in my pursuit of officiating the National Championship more than a decade later. 

Following my selection as one of the final four officials to work the Championship, there was a break period of approximately ten days between the end of the Provincial Championship and the beginning of the National Championship. 

Throughout this ten-day period, I had my training and study regiment outlined down to a tee, hour-by-hour. It was the final push which would carry me through to the pinnacle of my work over the past two years.

However, fate had plans of its own…

A few days after getting the call I was going to the National Championship I was outside shovelling snow. It was one of those heavy, wet snowfalls Ottawa is famous for in the Springtime. 

As luck would have it, only a few shovel loads away from finishing, I lifted and turned to throw the snow up onto the snowbank when I felt an excruciating pain in my lower-right back. The shock nearly brought me to my knees as I aggravated an old hockey injury. 

I hobbled inside the house and proceeded to lay on the floor with a hot compress. On a steady diet of muscle-relaxers and painkillers, I spent the following two days laying on the floor hoping for my back to recover. Needless to say, my training regiment had veered severely off course.

By day four, and with only three days until the start of the National Championship, I was moving around the house reasonably well and was beginning to regain mobility and flexibility in my back. Everything felt fairly well, so I decided to go for a very light skate and test how I felt on the ice. 

Getting to the rink and putting on my skates, halfway into my second lap the pain returned in excruciating fashion. I had clearly reactivated my injury, and the pain was as severe, if not worse! 

As I hobbled to the side of the rink, it was a near monumental task simply stepping over the threshold of the doorway and off the ice.

Barely unable to move my legs it took me five minutes to walk a mere thirty-five feet down the hall and into the dressing room, and another fifteen minutes to untie my skates. Walking to the car and eventually sitting down was a whole other can of worms. Things weren’t looking good!!

I slowly made my way home, into the house, and resumed my position on the living room floor. Only three days until the biggest moment of my officiating career – the accumulation of hundreds of hours of work over the past two years – and here I was sprawled out on the floor barely unable to walk. 

It was getting down to the wire, and I had to decide whether to call the referee boss and tell him I couldn’t go because of my injury. Just the thought of making that call was devastating, and I wasn’t going to throw in the towel until I tried absolutely everything under the sun. Then came a glimmer of hope...

Later that day my mother was speaking with a good friend of hers. Her friend, who suffered chronic back pain for years, has tried every drug, massage device, and therapy technique available without success, until one day she came across an electronic device called the ‘Dr. Ho’.

You may have seen these infomercials running on late night TV, and I was a skeptic! But here I was, crippled on the bedroom floor and only three days away from the National Championship – I was willing to try anything.

For the next two days, I laid on the floor with the Dr. Ho electrodes running full-tilt on my lower back. The recommended dosage is fifteen minutes, but I was desperate and kept it going for hours.

With only one day to go my Dr. Ho therapy sessions were going well, however, there was still plenty of stiffness and pain in my lower back. I had to decide whether or not to call the referee boss and throw in the towel.

Personally, I didn’t care if they had to take me off the ice in a body bag, so I decided to forgo making the call and instead, roll the dice. I was going to work the National Championship no matter what

I was assigned to work the opening game of the tournament. Getting up that first morning I felt sick to my stomach with nerves of anticipation. I just wanted to be healthy and do my job as best I could.

My back was feeling relatively decent, and the painkillers were helping. Before leaving the house, I stuck an icy-hot patch to my lower back and headed out the door.

When I arrived at the rink, I rendezvoused with my crew (the two linesmen I was paired with) and met with the head of the officiating committee. I brought them up to speed on my injury situation and informed them I was feeling rather good.

Each game had a backup official in case one of us got injured during play, so if I got out on the ice and things went south, the backup referee could jump in.

Nearly fifteen years later I now recognize the importance of giving my body a chance to rest and recover. Yes, the injury was induced by a fluke snow-shovelling accident, but it was likely the final straw in an accumulation of effects which were slowly building under the surface of my training regiment. 

As important as it was to be a rabid dog and train with intensity every single day, I was very young and inexperienced in the art of training properly. I didn’t recognize the importance of giving my body a chance to recover, and how important the recovery process plays in one's overall success. 

The most challenging task for any high-performance athlete is sitting still. You always want to get up and train, but by realizing the importance of protecting our asset (i.e. our bodies & minds), we can take our training to entirely new heights. Rest days are vital in maximizing performance output, whether it be physical or cognitive. 

To this day I still love getting to the gym and training hard, whether it be weight training, skating, or biking, but I now know how critically important rest and recovery plays in the development process. I now include restorative yoga into my weekly training routine – something I never did before, along with designated rest days to let my body heal. 

Adequate rest applies to mental health as well. I can’t stress enough the importance of getting a good nights sleep and giving our brain a chance to rest. Getting proper sleep is one of the most important things we can do to maximize our effectiveness the following day. 

I also now enjoy daily meditation sessions, typically for a mere ten minutes, where I give my brain a quick rest and disconnect from the barrage of emails and other stimuli. Meditation has proven so exceptionally powerful and beneficial in all aspects of life, including my emotional health, creativity, relationships, finance, and in business. 

Be a rabid dog in the relentless pursuit of your goals, but don’t underestimate the importance of resting your body and refilling your fuel tank. 

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Principle #15:

When leading a team into battle you absolutely must explode onto the battlefield. Anything less and your team will undoubtedly fail. 

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Injuries aside, my crew and I were preparing in the dressing room to kick-off the tournament and drop the puck for the very first game. 

Being the most junior official on staff I was a bag of nerves on the inside, yet on the outside, I knew I had to maintain a calm and collected demeanour.

My two linesmen were noticeably jittery in the room before the game. Although they had worked many high-profile games up to this point, it was still the National Championship, and everyone in the hockey world was watching. 

Several of the other officials who were working the tournament were waiting in our dressing room, shooting the shit before our game. A few minutes before taking the ice I asked them to please give us the room. 

Sitting there with just my two linesmen, 3-minutes away from stepping onto the ice, there’s no doubt they could hear the nerves in my voice or see the fear in my eyes, yet I assured them we were going to have one hell of a great game. We huddled and went over some last minute items – work hard, stay focused, maintain strong communication, and most of all execute together as a team.

After a quick fist bump, we were out the door. 

Most people don’t realize when taking the ice, whether as a hockey player or official, there are two ways to go about it. 

The first way is to walk up to the door leading onto the ice, step over the threshold, and proceed to skate onto the ice. Sounds pretty straightforward, right?

Most guys did it this way, and it works just fine, but there’s a better way to take the ice which I learned from my French counterparts on the Quebec side.

If you watch hockey, you’ll notice there’s a difference between how the players come onto the ice during the regular season versus the playoffs. The second method, which is typically reserved for playoffs, involves players running onto the ice and skating full-out for their first few laps. 

My mentor, Marc Lafontaine, taught me to always take the ice with authority – to come charging out of the gate and onto the ice, full steam ahead. Now, this may not seem like a big deal to most, but for those who’ve played the game at a high level, you know what I mean. There are two key factors at play here:

1. Mentally: by charging onto the ice rather than meandering, you’re psychologically preparing yourself for battle. You’re getting fired up and taking charge of your on-ice presence. 

2. Optically: what looks better – someone who slowly meanders onto the ice like an old man getting into a bathtub, or someone who comes charging out of the gate, showing enthusiasm, a desire to be there, and a willingness to work hard?

Although the difference may seem subtle, I believe my consistent ‘take charge’ attitude when entering the ice was a crucial component in my overall success as an official. It was the first impression everyone in the entire arena saw when I first stepped onto the ice, so why not make it a powerful one?

I’ve come to learn, as with anything in life, when you’re going into battle, whether it be a boardroom or a sporting arena, how you show up plays a fundamental role in your success over the proceeding events. 

Show up on time, be disturbingly over prepared, and come charging in with authority. This take-charge attitude is the only way to approach life, no matter the size of the battle. 

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Principle #16:

The catapult of success will bring outcomes you never thought possible. Prepare for the unexpected.

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There must have been a higher power at work as I managed to get through each of my games without my back causing me any significant issues. 

My supervisions from the Hockey Canada national supervisors were all excellent, and I was the only official not to have struggled with a rule error or controversial situation. My performance at the tournament was exceptional by all standards. 

Following the National Championship, I took a much need 3-week vacation and went backpacking in Europe. It was an essential time of self-reflection as I was now dealing with the many emotions which proceed any significant achievement: "Now what?

Having spent the last two years on a strict training regiment, knowing each day what I had to accomplish, it was now an odd feeling to have no immediate responsibility or game plan.

Following my summer vacation, I knew I’d return as a linesman in the Junior ranks, and I’d continue as a head referee in the minors, but there were no longer any big, audacious goals on the table. 

Following my three weeks sipping latte's and touring around Europe, I returned home to find some exciting news waiting for me. 

While I was away, the National Supervisor had recommended my name to an invite-only prospect camp happening a few months later in August. This prospect camp is an opportunity for the referee bosses from each Major Junior and Professional Hockey League to scout promising officials for the upcoming season. Every league, including the OHL, AHL, ECHL, CHL and even NHL were in attendance. It was a big deal!

Not knowing what to expect, I knew one thing for sure: if the stakes were going up, my training and preparation regiment had to go up.

Over the next three months, I expanded my training routine to include even more dry-land drills, rules testing and skating sessions. I didn’t know what would come of this camp, but I knew I wanted to be disturbingly over-prepared.

This invitation was a completely unexpected opportunity to get on the radar of the biggest and most sought-after hockey leagues on the planet, and I wasn’t about to let it pass me by.

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Principle 17:

Forget the box. There is no box. Always act and think on your terms. Boxes are merely a representation of the limitations of others. Let your abilities determine the boundaries of the box.

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Over the three months leading up to prospect camp, my training was coming along well. I was renting weekly ice times at the university, and my back had fully recovered.

By early August it was time to head down to Guelph, Ontario where the four-day camp was being held.

Unlike previous camps I had attended in Ottawa, which were comprised predominantly of Ottawa-area officials, this prospect camp included officials from all over Ontario and even the U.S. The cream of each crop were in attendance, and everyone’s skill level was that much higher

The camp went exceptionally well. There were daily dry-land workouts, rules sessions, breakout case study sessions, and on-ice drills. Of the fifty or so officials in attendance, each one of them was considered a top official in their respective regions, and it clearly showed. Everyone’s skill level was noticeably higher than any other camp I had attended before. 

On the final day of the camp, the local OHL hockey team – the Guelph Storm, were having their annual development camp inter-squad game, where young prospects would come to try out for the team. They needed referees, so all the officials at our camp were paired into crews of three – one head referee and two linesmen – I was a referee. 

Each crew got a single four-minute shift throughout the game to go out and show their stuff to the officiating scouts. It was a great opportunity, although a strategic nightmare

When a typical hockey game is 60-minutes, trying to make a memorable impression among the 'Who's Who' of the officiating world in only four minutes can be an incredibly challenging task! How is anyone supposed to stand out in just four minutes of ice time?

The third period came around, and my crew was one of the last to take the ice.

The game thus far had become quite intense, with several fights and numerous scrum's and penalties. After all, there were forty young men, aged 18-21, each in the prime physical shape of their lives, all jacked up at 110% and trying to make the team. No doubt emotions were running high!

The buzzer sounded for the next crew change, and we were up. I got paired with two younger linesmen who had yet to work a game at the junior level.

Compared to my handful of regular season games the previous season, and having just worked the Midget National Championship, I seemed like a veteran in their eyes. Little did they know I was stepping into entirely new territory as well.

As we stepped onto the ice, I told the guys to follow my lead. Unlike every other crew which took the ice before us (and simply dropped the puck to resume play), I knew I had to slow the game down and take control of the escalating intensity. I had to set a presence and tone (if only for four minutes), that would take back the reigns and bring the game under control. 

Although it was halfway through the third period, rather than telling my guys to line up and drop the puck, I asked them to follow me to the team benches where I proceeded to introduce myself and shake the hands of each coach. I instructed the teams to continue playing hard, but to keep it safe.

You could feel the tension in the building immediately release. As a result, our four-minute shift went by without a single penalty call.

Once showered, we headed back up to the press box for our scouting assessment.

As I entered the room one of the former NHL referees and long-time veteran, Don Van Massenhoven, pulled me aside. He explained, when my crew skated across the ice to shake hands with the coaches, every scout in the building took notice and was impressed by our game management ability. I remember Don saying, "This kid has 'It,' he gets it."  

Every other crew before ours quietly took the ice and continued to let the intensity escalate. Our crew made a name for ourselves by not only utilizing a veteran game management technique (talking to the coaches) but by doing something every other crew had failed to do – establish presence and control.

In fact, we stood out more in those four minutes than anyone else had stood out the entire weekend.

Each of the officiating managers lined-up to speak with us one-on-one. To stand out one step further I came to camp prepared with pre-printed one-page officiating resumes with my headshot in the top right corner. Using my mother's camera and father’s old-school inkjet printer, I printed a dozen copies of my officiating resume to distribute among the various officiating managers.

Having resumes was by no means standard practice and had never been done by another referee. Not only did I want to stand out on the ice, but I also wanted to ensure when each of these officiating managers returned home they had a physical reminder of me sitting on their desk, engraving me in their minds.

Sure, other officials laughed when they saw I had brought resumes. It was something entirely new, and the jokes were plenty. However, my goal at the camp wasn't to become popular among the other officials or make friends. I came with a clear goal in mind: work hard and get noticed. I would let the officiating managers decide whether or not my resumes were laughable. 

The remainder of the camp went exceptionally well. At the final meeting, there was a sense of disruption and unrest looming in the air among several other officials from Ottawa, who were known for 'playing politics.' People were now talking about this nobody kid from Ottawa who had, seemingly overnight, become one of the top prospects at camp. 

Little did they realize, my ability to stand out was anything but an overnight success. It was the accumulation of hundreds of hours of preparation and training; planning for each possible scenario and establishing a game plan of which I worked incredibly hard to execute meticulously. 

Since that day, I’ve always tried to be radically open-minded and think outside the box, whether it be in business or life in general. I’m not saying to be different for different sake, but it’s important to be willing and open to doing things a new way, even if it brings forth criticism.

Ultimately, if you want to advance, you can’t be afraid of the spotlight. No one ever got ahead by laying-low and blending in.

I thought outside the box, and it worked, so well in fact that my success once again brought an outcome I could never have imagined. 

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Principle #18:

Always give something back. More important than anything you can personally achieve is what you leave behind for others.

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I left that camp feeling as though I had given my all and left everything I had on the ice. No regrets. 

I could sense the unsettling vibes among the senior, more politically-focused guys, but I intensely avoided getting wrapped up in the noise and stayed focused on my own goals and planning for the year ahead. 

Over the ensuing three days after arriving home, I received contract offers from numerous major junior and professional hockey leagues. 

In only two years, I had effectively gone from being a nobody, minor hockey linesman, to a professional ice hockey head referee with a National Championship under my belt.

My Friday and Saturday evenings went from being spent in the gym to now stepping into arenas filled with thousands of screaming fans and future NHL superstars.

I had not once planned to make a career from officiating, yet as the fruits of my labour continued to pay-off, I found myself inadvertently moving up the ladder at an escalating pace. 

Among the officiating community back home, many were in vast disbelief as I had leapfrogged so many rungs on the ladder, essentially rewriting the book on how to advance.

What I accomplished in two years typically took five or ten years of slowly and steadily moving up the ladder, rung-by-rung, and if you were lucky, getting hired by a major junior or professional league. 

I chose to accept a contract with the OHL (Ontario Hockey League) and move to Toronto where I would officiate full-time. However, in my mind, I was still a young, minor hockey linesman wanting to give back to my local official's association. 

In addition to officiating, four years before this all began (and before moving to Toronto) I enrolled to become a mentor and supervisor for young officials. On the weekends I would go to the rink and help new officials as young as thirteen years old.

Mentoring involved supervising young officials from the bleachers, and sometimes, taking the ice alongside them. It was something I considerably enjoyed, taking great pride in their development. 

In the final two years before moving to Toronto, I was promoted to the role of Direct of Supervision for my local minor hockey association. In addition to supervising new officials, I became the head of the entire supervision program, which involved managing more than twenty supervisors, ensuring each of our more than sixty officials was supervised on a regular basis, built and assessed progress reports for each official, and hosted numerous certification exams and rule workshops. Some of the policies and methods I introduced are still being used to this day

Throughout these final two years, yet another opportunity to give back came forth. I was approached by several minor hockey officials interested in making the jump up to the Junior ranks. 

To help them succeed, I continued renting private ice time in the weeks leading up to the Junior hockey tryout camp – the same camp where it all started for me two years earlier. 

I’d take each of my prospective officials through all the same drills they could expect at camp and answered any questions they had. During one of our sessions, we even brought a garbage can onto the ice because several guys were close to vomiting! My reasoning was (and still is): if you don’t feel like you’re going to vomit, you aren’t working hard enough

For two years I held these mini training camps. The first year I trained four officials, and the second year grew to eight. I’m incredibly proud to say my student success rate was a resounding 100%, with each official in both groups getting hired to the junior ranks.

Seeing the success of these young officials was more gratifying than any other milestone throughout my officiating career. I was honoured to pass down the knowledge and strategies which proved so fundamental to my success, and we all enjoyed a celebratory cold beer afterwards. 

Following my move to Toronto, I spent the ensuing six years officiating at a level of which most referees can only dream. I worked the OJHL (Ontario Junior Hockey League) playoff cup finals, the WHL (Western Hockey League), inter-squad games for the Toronto Maple Leafs and Ottawa Senators, and was even invited to the NHL prospects camp. Yet the thing I’m most proud of is what I left behind for those who would follow in my footsteps. 

Yes, the National Championship was a massive achievement, and getting numerous contract offers is something less than 1% of officials ever received. But if I only focused on my personal success, the entire experience wouldn’t have been nearly as valuable. 

The achievements of many will always outweigh the accomplishments of a few. Success lies not in the creation of individual gain, but rather, the building of a repeatable framework with global applications to help others achieve their goals in the advancement of the greater good. 

Always give back in everything you do

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Principle #19:

Never let any single job or role define who you are. Life is scarily short and can be gone tomorrow. Take time to enjoy all aspects of life and don’t get fooled into to thinking you’re one-dimensional. 

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This last principle wasn’t recognized until much later in my officiating career, around the time I met my (now) beautiful wife. 

In my late twenties, as I neared the end of my officiating career, I realized for the past ten years I had completely let officiating define who I was. Everyone knew me at 'Matt the referee.' The majority of my friends were fellow officials, and the schedule of the hockey season dictated my life. 

I suppose like any career, which consumes such a vast majority of our time, we can’t help but fall into the trap of letting it define who we are. “Without officiating, who am I?” I thought. It’s all I knew for the past decade. 

I wanted more out of life, and didn’t want to wake up one day to realize I was now in my forties and still 'chasing the dream.' I’ve met so many referees over the years who remain in this position – guys who continue officiating because they're afraid to walk away from the game which has defined there lives for so long.

It’s a scary thought, learning how to fill such a large void. Nevertheless, I wanted more out of life. I wanted to date more, and go for dinner with friends on Friday and Saturday evenings rather than drive to a hockey arena. 

By this point in my career, I knew I wasn’t going to become a full-time NHL referee, and in hindsight, I’m especially thankful I didn't. Otherwise, I would have missed so many great opportunities life has to offer outside of the game. 

I made it my new mission to pare back my officiating schedule and focus on developing other aspects of my life.

I began booking-off Friday evenings to spend time with friends. I started dating more and spending more time with my ageing grandparents. I even went back to school and took several finance classes in preparation for an MBA. I realized I was doing my life a great disservice by focusing solely on one dimension, and I couldn’t officiate hockey forever.

Roughly six months after I began this transformation I met my (now) beautiful wife. As a physician, she opened my eyes tenfold to the shortness and fragility of life, diagnosing patients on a weekly basis with terminal cancers and other diseases, many of whom much younger than I.

I’ve come to learn: time is something we all take for granted. 

Throughout my early twenties I never imagined getting old or eventually dying, yet in reality, there will come a day when everyone in our lives will be gone.

What’s most important in life is not the status we achieve or hierarchies we climb, but the ability to build fulfilling relationships and contribute back to the greater good. 

One year after meeting my wife I decided to hang up my skates and retire from the officiating world. She was offered a job in Calgary, so I decided to leave Toronto and go along with her. It’s now been more than five years since moving out west, and I’ve never had a single regret – I absolutely love Calgary and cannot see us ever moving back. 

Uprooting my entire life, quitting my job, leaving my officiating career behind, and moving to a city where I had no friends may seem like a radical and scary change. However, officiating had served its purpose – to teach me the lessons and principles I’ve described in this text. Principles I could take forward and utilize for a higher purpose in life. 

Personally, I love change and welcome it with open arms. In life, every time I’ve encountered change it has worked out for the better. However, it’s not enough to simply make a change; we have to embrace it with open arms and dive in head first. If we fail to give change our utmost attention and energy, we will not achieve the results we seek. 

To all my officiating brothers still working into their late thirties and forties, and for anyone who feels they are defined solely by the job they perform, I urge you: 

The greatest mistake we can make in life is letting any single activity define who we are.

We are all multidimensional people, capable of many great things. Explore change, and you will find happiness in ways you never thought possible. Don’t be fooled into thinking a ‘job’ is all you are or are ever meant to be.


THANK YOU FOR READING!

If you're interested in learning more about NHL Referees and how they get hired, I wrote a popular piece on Quora which can be found here. 

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