You can go home again. Referee Tom Kowal had just such an opportunity, returning to his British Columbia roots for this year’s Hockeyville exhibition game in Lumby, British Columbia, between the Edmonton Oilers and the Los Angeles Kings. Kowal grew up just 25 minutes west, in Vernon.
“I left here a long time ago to chase the NHL,” Kowal, who officiated his last game in Vernon nearly 30 years ago, told NHL.com. “To be able to come back and see family, and see some people I’ve known [since] a long time ago and be part of this community again, this will probably be a highlight for my career to be able to come back and basically to come home again.”
Kowal was joined for the game by fellow referee Kyle Rehman, originally from Stettler, Alberta, and by the British Columbian linesmen Lonnie Cameron, from Victoria, and Kiel Murchison, from Cloverdale.
The quartet held an officiating clinic on Saturday at Lumby’s Pat Duke Memorial Arena – the very same rink that will receive $100,000 for renovations as part of the Hockeyville contest.
“It’s incredibly important,” said Kowal of giving back to local officials by holding an officiating seminar. “I think the crew you have here tonight, especially. We really care about this job and we care about the game and to be able to come back and spend some time with local officials – not only on the ice but afterwards [when] we sit in the back and do questions and answers – it means a lot to the four of us that are here tonight and it’s something we really enjoy.”
Linesman Lonnie Cameron, who participated in Hockeyville in his hometown of Victoria back in 2015, also stressed the importance of the session.
“By giving them some tools that they can use to better their game,” said Cameron, “Only makes the game better because they know what they’re doing out here. Players have a coach behind the bench to help them out. We come here and give them a few pointers for an hour and hopefully they can take what we teach them and apply it to a game, even this weekend.”
“The learning curve when you’re a young player is the same as a young official,” Cameron explained. “[At first] you’re just trying to play the game. As you get older, the skill set needs to develop at a high rate to maintain the level of the game you’re officiating. Skating is everything. You have to be a good skater to keep up because we don’t get the breaks. When our legs start to hurt, we don’t get to come off [for a line change] and sit for a couple minutes, then go back out.
They started with an hour on the ice, focusing on skating, positioning, faceoffs, communication and signals, then met in a classroom for another hour of logistics and mentoring.
“We really care about this job and we care about the game, and to be able to come back and be able to spend some time with local officials, not only on the ice but afterwards when we sit in the back and they ask us questions, it means a lot to all four of us,” Kowal said.
“It’s going to be a very special experience for sure.”