Tyler Hill hopes Canada Games exposure leads to future opportunities in hockey
After spending the past eight months framing up houses in and around St. John’s, Tyler Hill of Clarke’s Beach has put down his hammer for a whistle this week as the only male from this province selected to officiate male hockey at the 2011 Canada Winter Games in Halifax.
Hill is among some 20 on-ice officials — eight referees and 12 linesmen — working the male tournament, which started on Feb. 12 and concludes on Feb. 18. The tournament features many of the best under16 players in the country, including a team from Newfoundland and Labrador.
The tournament will feature 36 games, and Hill expects to don the black and white striped official’s jersey in at least six of them. As a linesman, it’s Hill’s job to watch for violations of the offside and icing rules, conduct faceoffs, and break up any scuffles between opposing players.
After seven years of hard work and commitment, Hill was gushing with excitement last week as he made final preparations for his trip to Halifax.
“It’s certainly a highlight for me,” said the well-spoken and personable 19-yearold.
Being selected for such a high profile assignment did not come easy. Hill was barely a teenager when he started officiating hockey, and has impressed his supervisors at every level. He was invited to a Hockey Canada officials program of excellence camp in Nova Scotia late last year, and it was at this event that Hill earned his Canada Games stripes.
He also earned high praise as an official at the 2010 Atlantic Challenge Cup in New Brunswick, which featured the best young hockey players in the Atlantic provinces.
“He’s mature beyond his years and we’re very proud of him,” said Don Kelly, refereein-chief for Hockey Newfoundland and Labrador.
Kelly said Hill was fortunate enough to have been mentored by Eddie Russell, referee-in-chief for the Bay Arena Minor Hockey Association. Russell is one of only a handful of Level VI certified referees in the province.
“Eddie identified Tyler at an early age as having the potential. He’s very coachable, very sharp, and has a good awareness on the ice,” Kelly said.
Kelly added that Hill works hard on and off the ice, and when it came time to recommend an official for the program of excellence, he said there was no hesitation in putting his name forward.
“ We’re very careful about these selections because it’s a reflection on our branch,” said Kelly.
Hill is so devoted to officiating that he one day hopes to reach the professional ranks, where officials can earn salaries well into the six figures. He plans to move to the mainland next fall, with the intent of continuing his education and pursuing opportunities on the ice.
“ That’s something that’s been floating around in my head, for sure,” Hill said. “I’ve been told I have the ability to do it.”
In addition to his aptitude and skating ability, Hill also has the physical stature. What he may be lacking is the constant exposure to high calibre hockey. That’s something he hopes to change next year.
But landing a career as a hockey official is not an easy task. There are very few jobs available at the NHL and AHL level, and there’s intense competition. Several from this province have tried to make a career of it on the mainland, but fell short. The major junior circuit and the East Coast league is also a “grind” for officials, say those with knowledge of the situation.
Hill understands this, but noted: “I’m willing to pay my dues.”
Part of his plan includes making an impression at the Canada Games, where supervising officials from the NHL and other top leagues will be in attendance.
“I know I’ll have to be on my A game.”
Hill has officiated in a number of leagues, including the Avalon East Senior Hockey, the St. John’s junior league, the provincial AAA midget league, and the St. John’s metro league. It’s often a thankless job, with plenty of verbal abuse and very little pay.
He first picked up a whistle about seven years ago. His motivation? Cash in his pocket.
It was a rough start. In his first game as a referee, he blew his whistle, thinking the netminder had covered the puck. He was wrong and the crowd let him know.
“I just covered my face with my hands,” he recalled.
He’s also had his share of emotion-filled encounters with players, coaches and parents. On one occasion after a game, he said, several angry parents tried to enter the officials’ room after a game. He nearly hung up his jersey and whistle after that incident.
“ That was pretty scary. I was only about 16 at the time. But my skin has grown much thicker over the years,” he said.
Hill has a Level III certification from Hockey Canada, and has plans to complete all six levels.
“He’s got the potential. He’s got what it takes. It’s a matter of applying himself and taking advantage of any breaks that go his way,” said Kelly.
Tyler Hill of Clarke’s Beach is the only male hockey official from this province invited to take part in the 2011 Canada Winter Games in Halifax.