Welcome to the National Hockey League, Mitch!

Referee Mitch Dunning will make his NHL debut tonight working a game between the Ottawa Senators and Florida Panthers in Kanata, Ontario.

Dunning’s debut – wearing #43 – will come alongside referee Marc Joannette and linesmen Steve Barton and Derek Nansen.

“It’s the NHL, it’s where every Canadian kid wants to be whether it’s as a player or an official,” Dunning told the Windsor Star earlier this season. “I’m there with some of the best athletes in the world. It’s exciting and an exciting job.”

Dunning, 27, played two seasons in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL), with the Sarnia Sting in 2008-09 and the Windsor Spitfires in 2009-2010.  He spent  two years officiating as a linesman in the OHL, ECHL, and AHL, before donning the bands and moving to referee in the AHL for the 2017-18 season.  He was signed to an NHL/AHL contract prior to the start of the 2018-19 season.

“I had been working in AHL all last season and was evaluated by an NHL supervisor on a regular basis,” Dunning said. “I wasn’t really expecting it, but that’s what you work for. Everyone reaches for the highest level.”

He becomes the third of the NHL’s recent class of referee recruits to make his debut this season, with Brandon Schrader and Brandon Blandina each working their first NHL games earlier this month.

From the NHLOA:

Tonight, Mitch Dunning from Tecumseh, Ontario will be working his first NHL Regular Season game at the Canadian Tire Centre in Kanata, ON when the Ottawa Senators will be hosting the Florida Panthers. He will be joined on the ice by fellow veteran referee Marc Joannette while linesmen Steve Barton and Derek Nansen will be working the lines.

Dunning who is a product of Sun County minor hockey, was born in Tecumseh, Ontario. A fourth round pick by the Sarnia Sting in the 2008 Ontario Hockey League draft, the former defenseman played parts of three seasons in the OHL (2008-09 Sarnia Sting & 2009-11 Windsor Spitfires) while also dressing up in the OHA Junior League from 2008-2012 with the Chatham Jr. Maroons, the Belle River Canadiens and the Elmira Sugar Kings. He suffered a serious knee injury during the 2010-11 season while playing with the Windsor Spitfires that had him sidelined for the duration of that season. He would also dress up for the in the 2012-13 season Windsor University hockey team while completing his degree in Labour studies before officially retiring as a player the following summer. His desire to stay involved in the game of hockey had him starting to coaching minor hockey in Belle River, Ontario the following season, a position he kept for 3 seasons.

His officiating journey started on a golf course in the summer of 2014 when a friend of his father and a senior member of the Windsor Essex County Referee Association talked him into trying it as a way to maintain an active role in the sport while earning some side income. He would go on to work in the Ontario Hockey Association (OHA) while working minor hockey all the way up to Midget AAA that season as a linesman. It didn’t take long before his playing experience, knowledge of the game and desire to hone in on his new craft got him some bigger assignments.

He attended Don Koharski’s Officiating School in the spring of 2015 and his officiating journey took off. Not only was he invited to the OHL officiating camp that summer to work the next season as a linesman but he was also invited to attend the NHL Officiating Exposure Combine to showcase is skills in front of the NHL officiating recruiting staff.

He worked the next two seasons (2015-2017) as a linesman in the OHL, East Coast Hockey League (ECHL), and AHL before being transitioned to a referee in the American Hockey League (AHL) for the 2017-18 campaign. Hockey Canada tabbed him to work the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge in Sault Ste. Marie in the fall of 2016. Prior to what would have been his fourth appearance at NHL Officiating Exposure Combine in the summer of 2018, Dunning was offered a minor league referee contract.

Congrats to Mitch Dunning, and all the best on his NHL career.