Referee Tom Chmielewski will be making his NHL debut tonight on Long Island. The 26-year old official will be donning the stripes alongside referee Greg Kimmerly (#18) and linesmen Brad Kovachik (#71) and Mark Shewchyk (#91) for tonight’s game between the Ottawa Senators and the New York Islanders.
(Side note: Nassau Coliseum, the site of today’s game, opened 15 years before Chmielewski was born.)
Chmielewski was hired by the NHL in September. He’s spent this season officiating games in the AHL and ECHL.
His last game was in the AHL on Sunday, when he refereed a game between the Oklahoma City Barons and the Charlotte Checkers. His refereeing partner was fellow rookie referee Graham Skilliter (#48), who’s also working tonight in the NHL.
A native of Colorado Springs, Chmielewski began his officiating career as a linesman in the USA Development Program and in the Central Hockey League. After college, he donned the orange armbands and began referring the in the Development Program, working the 2011 USHL Finals. He joined the ECHL in 2012, where he officiated the 2012 Kelly Cup Finals. He also began his AHL career in 2012, picking up a handful of games.
Here’s a Q&A with Tom Chmielewski, from NHLOfficials.com:
Q: How did you learn that you were getting hired by the NHL?
Tom: I was hired while on vacation with my girlfriend and a few other friends. We were hanging out on a lake in Wisconsin. I was told that I needed to be by my phone for a conference call at 10am. Shortly after 10am, I got a call from Terry Gregson and Bob Hall saying I had been hired. After the call I immediately called my parents to tell them the good news.
Q: How was your first NHL training camp?
Tom: My first training camp was a great experience. There was a lot of information to take in and I learned a lot about the business of being an NHL referee. The camp was not all business though and we had a lot of fun. The hockey games were a great time and very competitive.
Q: Any funny stories from this first training camp?
Tom: One funny story from camp was my experience during the team photo. A few of the guys tried to convince me that the new hires had to sit in the middle of the front row by themselves. Fortunately they were just joking around and I took my place with everyone else for the photo.
Q: What impressed you the most at this first training camp?
Tom: I was very impressed with how welcoming everybody was at camp. Prior to camp I had not met too many of the other officials. A lot of the guys introduced themselves and congratulated me on becoming part of the team.
Q: How old were you when you first started officiating? Why did you start?
Tom: I first started officiating when I was 12 years old. I did it as a way to get some extra ice time and also make a few extra bucks.
Q: Who has helped you the most throughout your journey to the NHL staff?
Tom: There are so many people that helped me to where I am today. My father started officiating with me so it has always been great to discuss things with him. My mother and sister have been extremely supportive throughout it all, and allowing my father and I to talk hockey all the time. The staff and supervisors of the USA Hockey Officiating Development Program got me off to a great start and prepared me to be a professional referee. Joe Ernst and the supervisors of the ECHL taught me how to be a professional and really improved my game. There are countless others who have helped me along the way and I couldn’t thank them enough.
Q: What is the most memorable game you have worked so far?
Tom: My most memorable game in my career so far was a game between Stockton and Boise in the ECHL conference finals last season. Boise was trailing by a goal late in the game. I called a penalty on Stockton for deliberate goal displacement with 2 seconds left which resulted in a penalty shot. I was confident I had made the right call but it was a big call in a big moment of a big game. Little did I know a supervisor from the NHL was at the game and that call played a part in being where I am today.
Q: Making the transition this year from being an amateur hockey referee into a full time professional, what is the biggest change so far this year for you?
Tom: The biggest change for me so far has been the travel. Each day brings a new city and new teams. These teams expect us to be at our very best and it doesn’t matter what our schedule was like or where we were the night before. Both mental and physical preparation are key to us performing at our best day in and day out.
Here’s Tom back in 2012, giving a look at life as an ECHL Referee:
Good luck out there, Tom!