The NHL has bolstered its officiating ranks for the 2018-19 season by hiring eight new officials. New to the league are referees Brandon Blandina, Mitch Dunning, Beaudry Halkidis, Michael Markovic, Conor O’Donnell, and Brandon Schrader, all of whom will work the bulk of this season in the American Hockey League. They’re joined by linesmen Tyson Baker and Jesse Marquis, who are expected to split time between the AHL and NHL.
Brandon Blandina #39
Blandina, 29, from Centennial, Colorado, played two seasons in the ECHL (2012-14), suiting up with the Elmira Jackals and Reading Royals. In 110 ECHL games, Blandina posted seven goals and 12 assists along with 59 penalty minutes. Blandina is the second alumnus of Robert Morris University to join the NHL as an official; he graduated in 2012 alongside fellow referee Furman South. Blandina officiated in the AHL last season.
Mitch Dunning #43
Dunning, 26, played two seasons in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL), with the Sarnia Sting in 2008-09 and the Windsor Spitfires in 2009-2010. He’s spent the past two years officiating as a referee in the AHL and as a linesman in the OHL and ECHL.
“I think my playing background helped me,” Dunning told the Windsor Star. “I think the game and can move out there. I like to think I have a knack, but like everyone else I worked hard at being as good I can be and taking advantage of every opportunity I got night in and night out.”
Dunning attended both the NHL Combine and Don Koharski’s Officiating Camp.
“It’s just something I worked hard at. I’ve always pushed myself to be as good as I can be and excel at whatever my craft is. I always tried to be the best I could be and good things came to me.”
Beaudry Halkidis #48
Halkidis has worn the stripes in the AHL, ECHL, and USHL. He took part in the 2015 NHL Officials Combine.
Michael Markovic #47
Markovic, who hails from Scarborough, officiated in the Ontario Hockey Association before moving up to the OHL as a linesman (2016-17) then referee (2017-18), then to the ECHL as a linesman and the AHL as a referee. Markovic spoke with the GTHL about his officiating career.
Like any official [my career] began at the ref school [the Canadian School of Hockey Officiating Referee Summer Camp], learning the basics. From there I was asked to skate in the GTHL where I was fortunate enough to skate some important games like the Minor Midget AAA playoffs, OHL Cup and OHL Gold Cup. I attended the NHL’s exposure combine for officials and the OHL’s officiating training camp, competing for a position as a linesman.
Markovic also talked about leveraging his strengths in transitioning to officiating.
I always considered my skating ability one of my strongest assets as a player as well as my knowledge and feel for the game. I can usually anticipate where the puck is going to be, or where it should go, to allow me to be in the best possible position and have the best possible sightline. I know what it feels like to be slashed in front of the net, what it’s like to be hit and want to retaliate and I know from my days as a player how I wanted an official to officiate a game, so I try to blend that with my knowledge of the rulebook.
As a player I thought I knew the rules of hockey. However, I’ve come to realize you know absolutely nothing! The hardest transition for me was learning the rules and the different scenarios of how each rule can be implemented. […] As an official you are constantly learning, so any chance I get, I flip through a couple of pages of the rule book to keep it fresh in my mind.
Conor O’Donnell #41
O’Donnell, 28, spent four seasons in the OHL with Brampton, Guelph, and Windsor — alongside Taylor Hall and Adam Henrique — before heading off to university and, later, continuing his playing career in Europe. He had one professional season in North America, suiting up for 24 games with the ECHL’s Colorado Eagles. He made his professional officiating debut last season, working in the AHL. From the NHL:
Conor O’Donnell had planned to play in the NHL. He never had considered officiating.
“I came to the camp not expecting much, to be honest,” he said.
O’Donnell arrived at the 2016 combine in the best shape of his life, with one final season of playing in the ECHL ahead of him. He was intrigued by the weekend, by the idea of still getting to the NHL. He was invited, having never officiated a game, to the Toronto Maple Leafs rookie tournament, “my first time ever stepping onto the ice, putting on a ref jersey.”
A week after that, he was officiating in the AHL.
Brandon Schrader #46
Referee Brandon Schrader, 24, has most recently officiated in the AHL and for the NCAA.
Tyson Baker #88
Baker, 23, from Thorndale, Ontario, played junior hockey from 2011 to 2016 before becoming an official. In 2017, he was recruited to join the OHA Officiating Staff as a linesman, later moving on to work the lines in the OHL and AHL. Baker was named the OHA’s Top Linesman Prospect following the 2017-18 campaign, one in which he worked games at multiple levels including a handful of appearances in the AHL’s Calder Cup playoffs. Baker made his AHL debut on November 17, 2017, working alongside referees Chris Schlenker and Brandon Schrader, both of whom are also now NHL officials.
Jesse Marquis #86
Marquis, 24, spent two seasons in the QMJHL. He’s most recently officiated in the ECHL, where he worked the 2018 Conference Finals as well as the 2017 NHL Prospect Tournament in Traverse City, Michigan.
The NHL’s newest recruits join four referees already on minor-league contracts – Reid Anderson, Peter MacDougall, Furman South, and Corey Syvret – and AHL/NHL linesmen Bevan Mills and James Tobias.
Congratulations to the eight new officials. All the best to them in their respective NHL careers!