By Thomas Schmeltz. Originally published in the Bowling Green Sentinel-Tribune:
Cody Lang’s dream of becoming an official in the NHL hasn’t come true, and it’s very possible it never will, but that hasn’t stopped him from lacing up his skates on weekends.
He’s still reffing games on Fridays and Saturdays and the occasional Sunday, as is the case this week.
A 2012 Bowling Green High School graduate, Lang will referee his first Division I hockey game Sunday when the 20th-ranked [Bowling Green State University] Falcons host Robert Morris in the Slater Family Ice Arena at 5:07 p.m.
“It’s a huge achievement for me. It’s something I’ve been working towards,” said Lang, who has been a hockey official since age 13.
“I’m not nervous to work it. It’s just like going out and officiating any other hockey game.”
Lang, who will turn 25 next month, essentially grew up in the arena. He played high school hockey for the Bobcats and spent more time in the arena than his own home, he joked.
Now, he’ll skate in it again as his hometown team takes the ice for its home opener. Lang is also scheduled to work the Falcons’ Nov. 2 and 3 series against Northern Michigan.
“When I first starting reffing I always told myself how cool it would be to do a Falcons game,” he said.
“I’ve been trying to get into Division I hockey for a couple years,” Lang added. “It takes a lot of time, there’s not a big turnover rate in college hockey.”
Division I hockey wasn’t the end goal when Lang got serious about officiating and realized he was pretty good. It still isn’t necessarily the end goal, but it’s a big step in the right direction and it’s a huge consolation prize if the NHL never becomes reality.
In 2014, Lang attended the NHL’s first officiating combine in Buffalo. It was an opportunity for the league’s scouts to see young officials in action and giving them an opportunity in professional leagues as a path to the NHL.
From the combine, Lang was signed to work in the Central Hockey League, which later that year suspended operations and merged with the ECHL — the same league the Toledo Walleye play in.
But, after the merger, none of the referees who were headed to the CHL were offered jobs with the ECHL. Suddenly, Lang was out of a job.
“That was one of my setbacks,” Lang said. “I was really looking forward to that.”
He went back to working games in the Federal Hockey League, an American professional league that is the equivalent of Single-A baseball. He also continued his work in the American Collegiate Hockey Association, a league that governs collegiate club hockey.
Lang’s ascent in the reffing circles was rapid. He started officiating youth games when he himself was a youth. As he got older he was assigned higher-level games.
“It started because it was another way to stay on the ice. I pretty much just lived at the rink growing up,” he said.
“I made some extra money. Then it was something that turned into I kept progressing and getting higher-level games. It was something I fell in love with.”
Soon enough, Lang was working in the ACHA and in junior hockey leagues before getting a call in 2013 to work the Federal Hockey League.
His perseverance has paid off now that he’s broken into Division I hockey. He’s currently assigned to work with the Western Collegiate Hockey Association, the ACHA, the Federal Hockey League and Division III games.
“I would love to go officiate higher levels. But with the job I have and having a family, it makes it a little bit harder to travel,” Lang said.
On Sunday, in his Division I debut, Lang will have about 50 friends and family in attendance. All will be supporting an official who chased his dream, and is now living it, even if it isn’t in the NHL.