The annual Traverse City NHL Prospects Tournament will take place from September 12-16 in Traverse City, Michigan. While it’s a showcase for some of the NHL’s up-and-coming talent, it’s also an opportunity for younger referees and linesmen to get some exposure.
The eight-team tournament featured squads from the Detroit Red Wings, Buffalo Sabres, Carolina Hurricanes, Columbus Blue Jackets, Dallas Stars, Minnesota Wild, New York Rangers, and St. Louis Blues. In its 16-year history, over 440 players have gone on to play in the NHL, combining for over 68,000 games and more than 9,300 career goals. Notable alumni include Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, James Neal, Ilya Kovalchuk, Brent Burns, Marc Staal, and Evander Kane.
We spoke with ECHL Director of Officiating Joe Ernst, who’s going into his fourth year heading up officiating for the tournament, about the event.
Scouting the Refs: What’s your role in the Traverse City Tournament?
Joe Ernst: I run the whole officiating part of the tournament. The [tournament host] Detroit Red Wings give me carte blanche; they let me do whatever I need to do. I take our [ECHL] guys, our prospect guys that the NHL is looking at, both linesmen and referees. This year we have 14 going – eight referees and six linesmen. The NHL had their [Referee] Exposure Combine in Buffalo a few weeks ago. [NHL Director of Officiating] Stephen Walkom asked me if I would take a couple guys from there, which I did. I took two referees and a linesman that are going to go with us to Traverse City. NHL management will be there from the officiating side for all four days of games so they’ll get to look at the guys, along with myself and my [ECHL Officiating] Supervisor Mike Pearce. We’ll go there and work with the guys after each game.
STR: With that kind of league presence, it sound like everyone on ice – players and officials – will get plenty of exposure.
JE: You’ve got eight NHL teams there, and those teams bring their whole brass. Everybody’s there, [from] management [to the] scouting staff. There’s someone there from every NHL team to watch. You’ve got lots of NHL people wandering around in Traverse City for those five days, that’s for sure.
STR: So who’s donning the stripes in Traverse City?
JE: Out of the eight refs, six are from [the ECHL] staff: Pierre Lambert, Nic Leduc, Peter MacDougall, Stephen Reneau, Kenny Anderson, and Peter Tarnaris. From the Combine, we brought a kid by the name of Cameron Voss, who works in Hockey East. He never really got a shot to work pro hockey coming out of the [US Officials] Development Program, so we’re going to see what he can do. There’s a chance he may work some games [in the ECHL] this year. There’s also a kid by the name of Furman South. He’s a Pittsburgh kid. He’s got limited experience as a referee, but he’s got potential, so we’re going to see what he can do. There’s a possibility maybe at some point he’ll find his way on to our staff in the ECHL.
There’s Tyler Landman, who we got from the Combine. He’s from Roseau, Minnesota — way up there in Minnesota. Then we’ll bring some of our guys in: Ryan Madsen, Shaun Morgan, Patrick Richardson, Steven Walsh, and Charlie O’Connor — he’s new to our staff from the USA Hockey Progam and will be full-time for us working out of Greenville.
Most of the officials are making their first trips to Traverse City. Returning referees are Stephen Reneau and Peter Tarnaris, who worked last year’s tournament alongside linesmen Shaun Morgan and Patrick Richardson.
STR: As the ECHL’s Director of Officiating, what are you looking to see from the officials at Traverse City?
JE: We want to get our guys off to good starts for the season. A lot of these guys, this will be the first hockey they’ve refereed since the spring. What we do — it’s no different than during the season. We’re gonna work with them, review game situations, and see if we can help them. We also want to see where some guys stack up against other guys. There’s a couple of new guys on the staff and I want to see where they judge compared to the guys who’ve been to the [Kelly Cup] Finals. For both referees and linesmen, we want to see where they’re at. We also want to make sure the guys are in shape.
There’s a couple of guys that are coming that are new to our staff. We want to see where they’re at. We brought [referee] Stephen Reneau last year to Traverse City. We worked with him the whole preseason and the first few games of the regular season, and you know what, the kid didn’t miss a beat all season long. He worked our Conference Finals and easily could’ve made the [ECHL Kelly Cup] Finals. The tournament also helps us get to know guys, too, since we’re with them for four or five days. We get to spend time with guys we might not know as well and see how they are [off the ice]. It really brings the guys together. It’s a great tournament for exposure for our league and our officials, and great for their experience as well.
STR: What are the assignments like for the officials?
JE: Each referee will ref four games. For the Tuesday [championship] game, the foursome will be based on how they work the previous three games. The top guys will work the last game of the tournament on Tuesday night. We only bring six linesmen. Each linesman will work two games in the same day over the first three days. Then the top two guys will work an extra game on Tuesday, so the top two linesmen will get an extra pay day as well, which is good for these guys. They don’t have real jobs except for their summer jobs so it’ll help them out — kind of a carrot we throw to those guys.
STR: What is the level of play on the ice like at Traverse City?
JE: It’s probably a mid-season AHL level of hockey. We’re talking about that in the beginning of September. Some of these guys we have going, as far as referees and linesmen, probably haven’t worked this pace of hockey. Though it’s not as physical as playoff hockey would be, the pace of play and skill level definitely is close. There’s first-round NHL draft picks playing along with guys looking to get an invite to NHL training camps, so there’s all kinds of different skill levels.
Traverse City is an unbelievable tournament. It’s well-run. I think this is the cream of the crop by the way it’s run [by the Detroit Red Wings] and how [Wings GM] Ken Holland handles the tournament. They’ve opened their arms and welcomed us to do what we need to do.
STR: Which rulebook do you follow? Will you be testing out any rule changes like the NHL does in the preseason?
JE: We play the NHL rulebook. We’re going to do AHL overtime [4-on-4 for four minutes, then 3-on-3 for three minutes before going to a shootout], if we have overtime. They’re not here to fight at the tournament, so if you get in two fights in a game, you’re done. Obviously, we’ll use hybrid icing. In the NHL preseason, they’re going to move the [faceoff] hash marks further apart. I’m not sure if the rink will be set up [for us to use that change]. Any of the other new rules that have been adopted by the NHL, we’ll use there.
The tournament starts Friday, September 12 and runs through Tuesday, September 16. Tickets are still available for you to head out and see some of the NHL’s top prospects — both on the teams and in stripes — on the ice.
We’ll be checking back in with the officiating crew during the tournament.
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