Don Koharski, long-time NHL referee and current NHL officiating manager, has run officiating camps for years. In 2017, Koharski held sessions in Ontario, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia. This year, he’s moving south of the 49th parallel for an officiating camp in Nashville, Tennessee.
“I’m excited about all my camps,” said Koharski, “but I’m really excited about this Nashville one.”
Koharski’s Nashville officiating camp runs from June 11-14 at Ford Ice Center in Antioch, Tennessee. It’s being run in partnership with the Elite Edge Hockey Showcase players’ camp, a premier players’ camp headed by Nashville Predators Director of Hockey Operations Brandon Walker, who was once a linesman in the Western Hockey League (WHL).
“I am excited to partner with a camp as highly regarded as Don Koharski’s,” said Walker. “We will provide them a high level of hockey to officiate and I think it will only benefit our players and program in the long run.”
Koharski was excited for the competitive action and the opportunity it presents to his camp officials with 24 games on schedule for the session.
“There’s 240 players and they truly come from all over the world to play and practice at his hockey camp,” said Koharski. “The last couple years, the competition in the games got pretty intense and he was starting to get some of the parents and coaches and the players themselves a little concerned about their safety.”
Koharski suggested the two join forces, with the officials jumping right in to game-duties for Walker’s players.
“We talked a little bit about the importance of officiating and how much it means to the games. I’ll get four or five hours of practice ice time, we’ll go through a bunch of instructional stuff with my guys on the ice, then go through video and classroom [training]. I’ll prep them and then assign the games with the guys that come to the camp. It was a perfect fit, so we dove into it.”
National associations like USA Hockey and Hockey Canada handle the training requirements for their organization’s officials, often holding summer programs to help continue development of a select group of their referees and linesmen. Koharski’s camp focuses on some of the nuances that may be overlooked and gives additional attention to officials who might not have such a hands-on experience.
“We focus on game management. We talk in depth about paying attention to the little things. How good are you during stoppages? Is your head on a swivel? We go into great detail that USA Hockey and Hockey Canada would love to be afforded outside of their specialty camps they run in the summer. This is an opportunity for some guys that aren’t fortunate enough to get selected to go to those camps. They would certainly benefit from coming here and improving their craft and their skill set.”
Though he’s run hockey referee camps for years, the 2018 Nashville camp will be a different experience for participants and for the instructors.
“This one in Nashville won’t be typical compared to our other four that we run in Canada. I’ve always wanted to do something like a fantasy camp for officials. That’s always been my dream. This is as close, maybe as I’m going to get.”
“We’re going to have practice time in the morning, two hours of ice time – an hour and a half or two hours of actual practice ice. We’re going to have breakfast meetings in the morning with video, then take what we show them visually right from the classroom to the ice to put it in practice. That afternoon they’re going to go out and officiate, where they’ll be observed and evaluated, critiqued, and coached. These guys and going to work a minimum of three games, if not four. Full, stop-time games where they’ll be observed. The next day, we’ll review in the breakfast meeting, get into our drills, and watch them. When they leave, they’ll be more mechanically sound and much better officials.”
Koharski tapped his years of experience – 32 years as an on-ice official in the NHL plus nine more as an Officiating Manager – to identify the areas of focus during the camp.
“The most important area is game management. The game management side of it is something you can teach, but the individual has to listen to it and maintain and go put it into practice. Game management is paying attention to the details, the little things. Take a guy like Wayne Gretzky in his day or even Sid Crosby today or any star player. A general manager will ask their head scout, ‘How good is he away from the puck? Is he an all around player on and off the puck?’ I equate that to our officials and I share that with the guys at our camps. ‘North-south you’re really good when the game is moving. You react, your instincts take over, you’re reading and reacting to the play well. How good are you during stoppages?’
“You have to be really good during stoppages. [Maybe] there’s a hot spot. There’s guys pushing and shoving. A guy slashes a guy at a stoppage. Are you seeing that? Are you reading and reacting that there may be [an issue after the whistle]? Are you sensing that maybe something’s going to happen here at a stoppage?'”
“We teach them just to pay attention to detail. When they take all this back and put it into practice in the upcoming season, it’s unbelievable the difference that people see from one year to the next.”
Communication is not limited to discussions on the ice, especially in amateur hockey, where officials also have to handle parents in the stands and off the ice. Those can be some of the toughest conversations to have, especially as a young official. Koharski’s team helps prepare referees and linesmen at all levels to handle those difficult situations.
“We really work hard at all our camps on communication skills. We have great experience on communicating – how to talk to players, how to talk to coaches, how to address parents on the way out of the rink. We have a lot of experience we bring to the table with that on the communication side.”
“We tell them: Treat indignity with dignity. The way you want to be treated in return, treat people that way. People will respect that. You’ll be better off for it at the end of the day. Be humble in your approaches with coaches, players, and parents. Let them know, ‘I’m working hard, I’m trying hard. On that play you’re angry with, this is how I saw it.’ You never know, a 14-year-old official may teach a parent a little bit about the game in situations like that.”
In addition to training and coaching, officials at Koharski’s camp will also get exposure to officiating managers from hockey leagues including the ECHL and SPHL, as well as USA Hockey, which can lead to future opportunities.
“We have seven officials now that are under full time contracts in the National Hockey League that have been students at our camps when they were younger. We’ve got some now that are in the minor leagues the last few years. With the push on finding hockey players with a great hockey IQ who know the game, getting a hold of them, and teaching them officiating, they’ve come through my camp before they’ve gone on to the Officiating Combine camp that the National Hockey League puts on in Buffalo in August. They came to learn the craft a little bit and get some skills before they went to the combine.”
“It’s a win-win for everyone. It really, truly is.”
Koharski will be getting support in leading the camp. Along with his son, former AHL referee Jamie Koharski, the camp will also have some top-level coaches.
“[NHL linesmen] Bryan Pancich and Matt McPherson, they’ve verbally committed. It’s just an opportunity that I really hope they see an opportunity here and take advantage of it.”
Officiating, like hockey, is now a year-round sport. Summers, previously reserved for time away from the game, have become a great time to focus on refining their craft.
Koho’s Nashville camp looks like a great opportunity to do exactly that.
- Nashville (June 11-14)
- Hamilton, ON (June 22-24)
- Quispamsis, NB (July 13-15)
- Moncton, NB (August 3-5)
- Truro, NS (August 10-12)