The American Hockey League has long been the pipeline for officials working their way up to the National Hockey League. Every referee and linesman currently working in the NHL has spent time in the American League. That development path will continue as the AHL and NHL have officially extended their officiating partnership through 2018-19.
“Our long-term relationship with the National Hockey League officiating department has provided our players and fans with the best officiating outside the NHL, and has established an outstanding career path for young officials,” said AHL President and Chief Executive Officer David Andrews. “This new agreement will continue to further both of those objectives.”
Under the terms of the agreement, the NHL and AHL officiating departments will continue to work together in all aspects of recruitment, training and development of on-ice officials. NHL-contracted referees will continue to be assigned to officiate approximately one-half of American Hockey League games each season, with the balance of AHL games to be worked by AHL-contracted referees who have been identified as top officiating prospects.
“There is no doubt that our young officials benefit greatly from time spent officiating in the American Hockey League,” said NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly. “Because AHL games feature so many future NHL players and are played at a pace and skill level that most closely replicates conditions in the National Hockey League, they serve as a perfect training ground for officials who later graduate to service in the NHL. Our arrangements and cooperative relationship with the AHL over the years has been critical to our ability to develop the best hockey officials in the world.”
Currently, referees Jake Brenk, Tom Chmielewski, Mark Lemelin, Dave Lewis, Jon McIsaac, Kendrick Nicholson, and Garrett Rank are splitting time between the AHL and NHL along with linesmen Shandor Alphonso, Devin Berg, Ryan Gibbons, Brandon Gawryletz, and John Grandt.
The AHL will also continue expanding its use of the two-referee system. The AHL first introduced the two-referee system in the 2010-11 season. Approximately 25 percent of games that season were officiated by four-man crews. The number has climbed steadily each year. The AHL anticipates that 60 percent of the league’s regular season games will be officiated under a two-referee system during 2015-16. The league’s goal is to fully transition to the system by 2019. Since 2011, all AHL playoff games have been officiated under the two-referee system.
AHL VP of Hockey Operations Mike Murray told the Austin American-Statesman that the frequency of two-referee crews is “based on availability and talent of officials that we schedule. Every single NHL referee has worked in the AHL so it’s important for development that we continue to move toward that system.”
“With the speed of the American Hockey League, it’s impossible to try to make all the right decisions and be in the right position at all times,” referee Tim Mayer said after the system was introduced to the AHL. “With two guys, it’s best for the game.”
Working in four-man crews gives officials greater preparation for the NHL level, where all games are officiated under that system. It also provides for a greater pool of referees to draw from, giving more officials opportunities to work at the AHL level.
With much of the NHL’s current officiating roster getting up there in years – and in games officiated – the next few seasons will be important transition for the league’s officials. Continuing their partnership with the AHL will only help in the continued development of the future stable of NHL referees and linesmen.