Two long-time fixtures on the AHL blueline have hung up their skates. Linesmen Al Stensland and Peter Cichy worked their final game on Friday, March 18. 2016, as the Chicago Wolves took on the Rockford Ice Hogs. They were joined on the ice by referees David Banfield and Terry Koharski.
Being a lifelong hockey fan, yet never having played the game, Al Stensland wanted to become involved in hockey at 18. He began officiating in the 1982-83 season, attending his first seminar conducted by fellow IHOA members Jon and Jack Raslawski. He began working local house and travel leagues throughout the area. He worked local playoffs, league championships, and All-Star games throughout the years. He was rewarded for his hard work in 1995 to work at the United Center for the AHAI High School State Championship. Al has also worked numerous regional and national championships.
In 1987, Al became a certified USA Hockey instructor, teaching at numerous seminars since; also allowed him to be a supervisor for both IHOA and USA Hockey. In 1996, he’s also instructed at USA Hockey’s Regional, National, and Select Officiating camps (men’s and women’s). Al served on the IHOA Board of Directors for 15 years, chairing the Evaluation, Performance-Education-Development, and Rules & Ethics committees at different times during that period.
Al progressed through the USA Hockey development camps, and in 1997, he obtained his IIHF license- linesman. He has been assigned to work in the World Junior “A” Championships in 1998, 1999, and 2004. In 2003, he was selected to work an IIHF Division 2 Senior Qualification Tournament. In 2002, he received the assignment to work the Olympic Exhibition games in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Al was also a member of NIOHA from 1988 until the chapter dissolved, then going on to work for the NCHA (Northern Collegiate Hockey Association- NCAA) until 2003, with the majority of his assignments at Lake Forest College.
In 1994, Al began working as a linesman in the NAHL (Junior “A”), Colonial/United Hockey League (minor pro), and the International Hockey League (IHL). In 2001, he worked the UHL All-Star game; his sweater is on display at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto. Since 2001, he has been working in the American Hockey League (AHL). He has worked in the Colonial Cup Finals, IHL Turner Cup 2001, and Calder Cup Finals. In 2009, he was awarded the Michael Condon Award for Official of the Year.
In the new chapter in Al’s officiating, he has signed on as a supervisor AHL officials.
My name is Peter Cichy, and I am a professional hockey official… at least for a few more weeks. I will be retiring after my game in Chicago on March 18, 2016, ending my 20 year professional career during which I worked nearly 2,000 total games (preseason, regular season, and playoffs). My path to the professional ranks was very different than that of today’s young, aspiring officials. This is my story.
As an 11 year kid growing up in Glenview, I attended my first officiating seminar (back then it was AHAUS, today it’s USA Hockey). I played hockey from the time I was old enough to walk, and figured I could make some decent money reffing youth hockey games. I took every assignment that any of the local schedulers would give me. In fact, long time IHOA member Jack Raz was one of the first to assign me games. As the years went by, and I got older and more experienced, I worked my way up to higher levels of youth hockey.
It wasn’t long before I was working several of the local Thanksgiving tournaments (Falcons Turkey Time, Winnetka Wishbone Classic, Loyola High School Tourney). During the 4 day Thanksgiving weekend, I would sometimes skate 30+ games. I loved it! I’m sure several people reading this even remember the green Winnetka Wishbone t-shirts I accumulated over the years! J Eventually, I worked my way up to AAA games as well as some high profile High School games, as well as National Tournaments. A couple of highlights that stand out from my years in IHOA are working the Chicago Showcase High School Tournament, several National championship games at the Tier 1 level, and the High School State Championship game at the United Center.
Then in the summer of 1996, IHOA organized a development camp for young up and coming officials. It was held in conjunction with the development camp for players. We spent the weekend officiating the player’s games as well as several hours of classroom discussions. It just so happened that the supervisors of officials for the Colonial Hockey League/United Hockey League were in attendance that weekend, looking for a diamond in the rough. They approached me and we had a great conversation. They asked if I would be interested in working the league in the upcoming season. Ummmmm… YEAH!!!!!!! I hadn’t even worked a single Junior A hockey game, and now I’m about to step into the pro game! Back in the early to mid 90’s, there wasn’t much Junior A hockey around the Chicago area – unlike today. Also, there was no “USA Hockey Officials Development Program” back then either. As a young official, you were thrown into the deep end….and you either sink or swim. Needless to say, I did the latter.
In addition to working the Colonial Hockey League/United Hockey League, I also worked games in the IHL/AHL, East Coast Hockey League, and Central Hockey League. For the first 15 years or so of my professional career, I was working between 100-115 games per season, plus working a full time job! I traveled all over the place (by car) to work games. Most games were within a 5 hour drive of Chicago, but I also went out to the East coast several times for an extended road trip to work games. I worked in a lot of great buildings, and worked lots of “Big” games…..several game 7 playoff games (the most memorable being a 3 OT game 7 final in 2008 in Fort Wayne, as well as the UHL All Star game in 2008). But the greatest memory of my 20 year professional career is the countless lifelong friends I met along the way. That’s what I’m going to miss the most – the camaraderie of all the guys I’ve worked with over the years. That bond will always be there.
Over this past summer, I made the decision to step away from my professional officiating career on my own terms. I’m only 43 years old. Many people have asked why I would retire at such a young age. What they don’t understand is the toll that nearly 2,000 pro games over a 20 year period takes on your body. The countless hours and miles behind the windshield, many times during snow storms, all the broken bones and stitches, all the time away from home. It’s not as glamorous as most people think; it’s actually rather grueling. But I wouldn’t trade it for anything. March 18th is going to be an emotional night for sure. I’ll have the privilege of working my final game with the 3 officials of my choosing, one of those being Al Stensland. I don’t know what will go through my mind when the final horn goes, or when I step off the ice for the final time. I just know that I have been extremely fortunate to have had the career that I’ve had. I’m sure I’ll stay involved in pro hockey in some way, perhaps as a supervisor or a mentor. There isn’t much that I haven’t seen, and I’m always happy to share my knowledge or offer guidance to the countless younger officials that I’ve worked with over the years.
In closing, I would simply like to offer some advice for any young official who may or may not have aspirations of working pro hockey: Always give 100%, never take a night off, be receptive to constructive criticism, and don’t be afraid to admit that you made a mistake….just don’t make a habit of it!
Congratulations to Al Stensland and Peter Cichy on their lengthy careers and on their retirement. We wish them well as they pull off the stripes and move on to the next phases of their respective careers. Good job, stripes!
(Featured image: Todd/Milwaukee Hockey)