He’s of­fi­cial

Tyler Hill hopes Canada Games ex­po­sure leads to fu­ture op­por­tu­ni­ties in hockey

The Compass - - PORTHTE - BY TERRY ROBERTS

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.”

Thank­less job

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.

Photo by Terry Roberts/The Com­pass

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.

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