Carter Sandlak is following in his father’s footsteps by making it to the NHL. Unlike his dad, he’ll be doing it as a referee.
Sandlak, wearing #47, will make his National Hockey League officiating debut tonight in Seattle as the Kraken host the Arizona Coyotes. The rookie ref will take the ice alongside referee Kendrick Nicholson and linesmen Ryan Galloway and Tyson Baker.
The Vancouver native, 28, made the jump to officiating after wrapping up his professional playing career in 2018. He most recently suited up for the ECHL’s Greenville Swamp Rabbits, with previous ECHL stops with the Florida Everblades and Toledo Walleye. Sandlak also played 54 games with the AHL’s Charlotte Checkers, picking up two goals, three assists, and 73 penalty minutes.
“When I was playing, I was a big chirper and was always talking to the officials,” Sandlak said. “A fellow official was laughing me at the other day telling me that now I’ll see it from the other side when guys don’t like a call I made and start yapping at me.”
Sandlak, a left-winger, played junior hockey with the OHL’s Plymouth Whalers, Belleville Bulls, and Guelph Storm. He joins a handful of former teammates playing in the NHL, in Ryan Hartman, Ben Chiarot, Jaccob Slavin, Alex Nedeljkovic, Derek Ryan, Brock McGinn, Trevor Carrick, Malcolm Subban, and Seattle Kraken blueliner Haydn Fleury, who’ll be on the ice tonight for Sandlak’s debut.
Sandlak was hired prior to the start of the 2021-22 season and has been officiating in the American Hockey League. He spent the previous two seasons refereeing in the ECHL, also working the 2018 Traverse City NHL Prospect Tournament. Internationally, Sandlak refereed the 2021 World Junior Championship.
“I still can’t believe I got to do it,” Sandlak told the London Free Press. “In the dressing room, my partner (veteran official Olivier Gouin) gave me a pep talk. He said, ‘Sandy, this is awesome and you’ve got to run with it. […] If you told me when I reffed you in the American league five years ago we would be doing this game together now, I would have just laughed.’”
It was a meteoric rise for the former player, who hadn’t considered officiating until a conversation with former ECHL teammate – and current full-time NHL referee – Corey Syvret.
“Corey finished his playing career and went into officiating, and really got me looking into it,” Sandlak said. “He said it’s a good lifestyle, and not as taxing as playing. I started to do some research, made a few phone calls and decided it was a good time to follow in his footsteps and enter the officiating realm.”
Sandlak attended the NHL Officiating Combine in 2018 before getting his officiating start right where he ended his professional career: the ECHL.
“Carter [is] being given an opportunity to become an official and he is taking this just as serious as when he played through his commitment and dedication to hockey,” said Joe Ernst, ECHL Senior Vice President of Hockey Operations, upon hiring Sandlak as an official back in 2018. “Fitness and skating have now become a major aspect of what the NHL is looking for in up and coming officials. These former players are all good skaters and in great shape, so now it’s just a matter of teaching them the ins and outs of officiating.”
With a fast track to the NHL that included two seasons in the ECHL and one in the AHL, Sandlak has had a crash course in getting up to speed. It doesn’t hurt that he comes from a family with an NHL background.
Sandlak’s father, Jim, spent 11 seasons in the NHL, playing for the Vancouver Canucks and Hartford Whalers from 1986-1996, scoring 110 goals and 119 assists over 549 games. He’s currently a scout with the Anaheim Ducks.
Given his lengthy playing history, Sandlak is comfortable with his approach to calling the game.
“I like to let them play,” he said. “To me, hockey is still a physical sport and you need contact. Sometimes, players might cross the line and that’s where I step in. You’re fair to both sides, keep it safe out there and let them go.”
Tonight, Carter Sandlak will be on duty. He’ll be put to the test as he pulls on the stripes and skates out on NHL ice for the first time tonight.