Officiating is a tough job in any sport, but especially challenging in hockey. That’s what makes recognition for a job well done even better for those hard-working referees and linesmen. USA Hockey handed out awards at their annual conference held in July, the Chet Stewart Award and the Milt Kaufman Award.
From USA Hockey:
The Milt Kaufman Award is presented at both the Eastern and Western Instructor Training Camps to the individual that most exemplifies the qualities that made Milt Kaufman such a special part of the USA Hockey Officiating Program.
“Milt was the Massachusetts District Referee-in-Chief . He was one of the people who put together the original Instructor Training program for the USA Hockey Officiating Program in the mid-‘80s. He also served as the original Eastern Instructor Training Camp Director until his untimely passing in 1994.” – Tony Mariconda, Atlantic District Referee-in-Chief.
The staff at each Instructor Training Program selects the award winners based on outstanding performance during the session and an overall dedication to teaching USA Hockey materials.
The Eastern Instructor Training Program winner was Rob Lagler. Minnesota’s Mackenzie Nelson was recognized for the Western Camp. Scouting the Refs spoke with Lagler on this recognition, his career, and preparation for the upcoming season.
Scouting the Refs: Congratulations on the Milt Kaufman Award. According to USA Hockey, it’s handed out to officials who best show those qualities that Kaufman had. What was it that earned you this recognition?
Rob Lagler: Leadership, character, a lot of dedication, teaching, giving back, helping younger officials grow. Obviously it’s an honor to win the award. It’s a privilege to be in such good company with some of the past winners.
Previous Milt Kaufman Award Winners (1996-2013)
- 2013: Francis Bastone (East), Richard Ozaki (West)
- 2012: Kevin Vena (East), Robin Baker (West)
- 2011: Lee Giobbie (East), Dominic Clements (West)
- 2010: Jeff Ning (East), Keisha Dunlevy (West)
- 2009: Robert Navickas (East), Ryan Ourada (West)
- 2008: Keith Grooms (East), Brett Lapham (West)
- 2007: Gui Bradshaw (East), Douglas Durgin (West)
- 2006: Nicholas Tochelli (East), Hardy Woodward (West)
- 2005: Bill Dickerson (East), Gary Anderson (West)
- 2004: Michael Frank (East), Joe Manthei (West)
- 2003: Carol Mullins (East), Wendy Seronko (West)
- 2002: Mike McDevitt (East), Michael Patterson (West)
- 2001: Mike Timoney (East), Andy Hudson (West)
- 2000: Michael Campbell (East), Matt Spivey (West)
- 1999: George Flynn (East), Rob McKane (West)
- 1998: Rob Coggin (East), Dan Hendrickson (West)
- 1997: Brian Johnson (West)
- 1996: Derek Zuckerman (East), Paul Sollberger (West)
STR: How long have you been officiating?
RL: This coming year will be my seventh season. Last year, I worked the USA Hockey National Championships, the Bantam U-14. I also did a handful of games in the Eastern Jr Hockey League South. This coming season I’ll be at camp for the Southern Professional Hockey League, hoping I can earn a part-time spot as a linesman there.
STR: How are you getting ready for the upcoming season? Is there anything you’re doing differently to get ready for the SPHL?
RL: Obviously, it’s going to be a lot of hard work. Fortunately, I’ve worked enough of the ACHA college games [as a linesman], so I’ve had plenty of linesman experience. Obviously, the guys are going to be bigger, faster, and stronger. I’m going to have to be a lot more on top of my game.
I’ll make sure I really hit the rulebook extra hard to make sure I know the little differences between the SPHL rulebook versus the USA Hockey rulebook or the NCAA rulebook, which I’m more familiar with. The other thing is just make sure I hit the gym and try to be in tip-top shape — anything that I can do to give myself a little bit of an advantage over anyone else there, then and hope for the best that I can get picked up and work a couple games here and there.
STR: What’s hockey like in Kentucky, especially as an official?
RL: Being located in Kentucky makes it difficult to referee full-time in a league. Obviously the travel is a lot harder for me than it is for some of the other guys who are up in [the northeast], Minnesota, or some of the places where they have a handful teams right around them.
I’m originally from Buffalo, New York, but my first year officiating was in Kentucky right after I finished college. Then I moved to North Carolina and the local guys there in North Carolina and the [USA Hockey] Southeast District really helped develop me as an official. I worked there for 4-5 years before moving back to Kentucky.
STR: How did you make the transition from player to official?
RL: Honestly, it never even crossed my mind – you get to a point as a player where you’re just not good enough to go any further or you’re not big enough, whatever the case may be. Someone reached out to me and said, “Have you ever thought about officiating?” I said no, though I certainly yelled at officials enough during my days as a player. Going out there for my first game was such a humbling experience, seeing the game from a different aspect. I’ve been really hooked ever since.
It’s a great way to stay involved in the game and to give back. Now I’m in a position to help younger officials grow and learn and maybe make the jump to the next level.
STR: How have you been working with developing the next generation of officials?
RL: I was involved in a mentor program down in Raleigh, North Carolina. When I moved back to Kentucky, I took over all the assigning for the youth hockey and the limited college hockey we have in the area. So I do that and I also act as a mentor here just because of my experience. Having gone to instructors camp just a couple months ago, now I’m excited to get into seminar season and start being an actual instructor, regionally, here in the area.
STR: Any advice for those considering a career in stripes?
RL: The biggest thing is just to have fun with it. It’s a great way to stay involved in hockey. Work hard. Never be afraid to ask questions or to seek out somebody who has a little bit more experience than yourself and try to learn, try to grow. Be the best you can. Have fun with it and find your little niche at the levels you’re comfortable with. Just try to progress up the ladder from there.
I certainly wish someone had told me when I was 15 as opposed to 23 that you could officiate and work your way up and stay involved in some high level hockey, and possibly make a career out of it. If someone would’ve told me that when I was a lot younger, I would have jumped at the chance. There’s definitely a lot of opportunities for young guys who want to put the time and commitment into it.
Thanks and congratulations again to Rob Lagler for winning the Milt Kaufman Award. Best of luck, Rob, in the upcoming season!
Interested? Thinking of trying on the stripes yourself? Sign up now for one of USA Hockey’s Officiating Seminars!
If you’ve already got your stripes, consider USA Hockey’s Officiating Instructors Camps, to learn how to give back and help develop new officials to help grow the game.
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