It’s a long road when you’re working your way up the officiating ladder.
Like any road trip, you look for those milestones along the way to show you that you’re headed in the right direction or just how far you’ve come. For referee Korey Chipperfield, the Traverse City NHL Prospect Tournament was just such a marker, en route to his first full season in the ECHL.
Chipperfield was one of eight referees selected to work this year’s Traverse City tournament. The annual five-day event, held in Traverse City, Michigan, featured the top NHL prospects from eight teams: the Carolina Hurricanes, Columbus Blue Jackets, Chicago Blackhawks, Dallas Stars, Detroit Red Wings, Minnesota Wild, New York Rangers, and St. Louis Blues .
Traverse City also hosted the tournament’s officiating crew which included, in addition to Chipperfield, referees Sean Fernandez, Alex Garon, Olivier Gouin, Andy Howard, Lucas Martin, Chris Pontes, and Chris Waterstradt, along with linesmen Riley Bowles, Jake Davis, Michael Fusani, Beau Halkidis, Brent Hooks, Charlie O’Connor, Patrick Richardson, and J.P. Waleski.
“It’s a huge honor,” said Chipperfield, of being selected to officiate the event. “I came up through the USA Hockey Development Program (ODP) and guys that I’ve worked with, some of my peers [have worked Traverse City.] This is something that, every year it comes around, you hope your name’s on the list. Luckily for me, this year, I was on the list. “
“Nobody here that’s on the roster for the tournament takes it lightly,” Chipperfield added. “We’re all prepared and ready to go, and we’re ready to have a good tournament. At the end of the day, we’re here to officiate to the best of our ability. None of us here take it lightly because we know what’s at stake for us. We’re all trying to move up to the next level and so are [the players], so we’re all ready to go.”
Chipperfield first discovered hockey in the non-traditional hockey town of Flagstaff, Arizona. Despite the state’s desert reputation, Northern Arizona University had an NCAA Division I team back in the ’70s and 80’s that included long-time Vancouver Canuck Greg Adams. Chipperfield’s dad grew up playing hockey there, later passing on the love of the sport to his son. The family eventually moved down to Phoenix, where hockey became a year-round sport for Chipperfield.
“When I first started getting into officiating, the Auston Matthews-era players were just coming up,” said Chipperfield. “I remember a lot of those kids, a lot of the kids that are playing NCAA — Zac Larraza is another one who got drafted by the Coyotes, played for the [USA Hockey National Team Development Program], and went to Denver. Hockey is a year-round sport for many kids because where else do you want to go when its 115 degrees and you can literally chill out.”
Chipperfield relocated to Marquette, Michigan, for his last two years of high school, where he suited up for the Marquette Electricians. After his high school hockey career ended, he returned to the Grand Canyon State to play club hockey at Arizona State University, now a Division I program. Back then, though, the Sun Devils were an ACHA club team. Without the D-I funding, the players were left shouldering the bills.
“It was just so much money,” Chipperfield said. “You’ve got to travel everywhere. The closest team that they would say was a rivalry team was Oklahoma. That’s not a bus trip, that’s a flight.”
Though he was still suiting up for the Sun Devils, Chipperfield turned his focus toward officiating.
“I started taking officiating more seriously. I went to Michel Voyer’s [California Referee School] camp and that’s where I started making my connections within the [USA Hockey Officiating Development Program]. I was told, ‘Hey we can get you a job if you want to do that and we’ll fly you out.’ This was my senior year of college. I was taking trips, I went up to Alaska, [down to] Corpus Christi, Texas. I was going to some cool places and not having to pay for it. I decided I’d definitely like to see where this officiating thing would take me.”
“Four years later, I’m still doing it. Every year I feel like I’m progressing to the better levels. Two years ago, I did the USHL’s Clark Cup Finals, last year I started working [in the ECHL] a lot more. This year I hope to progress a little bit further.”
The Arizona native will continue to advance, working his first full-time season in the ECHL. Along with the new gig comes a new travel schedule.
“[The ECHL tries] not to oversaturate referees, so guys travel quite a bit,” Chipperfield said. “I’m based out of Omaha, so last year, being a part time guy, I saw a lot of Wichita; Independence, Missouri; and Tulsa just because of my location. They were also working me within the USHL and SPHL schedule. They prefer travel to be localized, as far as working in relation with Scott Zelkin and Mark Faucette.”
“The referees specifically, though — everybody travels. Every referee sees every team just because they dont want that bias or over-familiarized feel to game, which I understand. It’s good because it gets [the officials] away from that too.”
Officiating’s not for everyone. Some become involved in the craft when they’re young, working their way up in stripes. Others take to it later, often making the jump from higher level playing right into officiating. For Chipperfield, making the switch was a way to remain involved in the game he loves and to help grow the sport.
“It’s one way of giving back,” Chipperfield offered. “You try to give back to the hockey world. You don’t want to take playing away from somebody, but officiating is a viable option for somebody that’s looking for another outlet to stay on the ice. I love the game of hockey, and that’s the reason I’m still doing it.”
Our best to the newly-married Chipperfield on the 2016-17 season and wherever his officiating career takes him. It’s been quite a ride so far.