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Eight West Kootenay referees go all-in with BCHL

BCHL referees unable to work minor hockey or KIJHL games due to BC Hockey’s unsanctioned rules
Referee Grant Tyson is one of eight hockey officials and linespersons from the West Kootenay who were selected to officiate in the BCHL this season. Photo: Jim Bailey

The BCHL released its officiating crew for the 2023-24 season, with eight West Kootenay officials selected and ready to referee in the league for the first time since leaving Hockey Canada.

A total of 50 officials were selected from a group of over 90, who submitted an application to work for the independent BC Hockey League. Their choice means they will be unable to work any games for Hockey Canada affiliates like BC Hockey.

BCHL Vice President of Hockey Operations Brad Lazarowich made the selections. He has been with the league since 2012 and previously was an NHL official for 30 years.

“We are proud to announce our staff of officials today for the upcoming season,” said Lazarowich. “We were overwhelmed with the number of applicants, which goes to show the desire for officials to work in our league has never been higher.”

Trail’s Mike Page will resume his role as a BCHL officiating manager. The referee lineup will include Trail officials Jim Maniago, Grant Tyson, Ryan Blake, Ben Thast, and Andre Gagnon and linesmen Guy Chapdelaine and Dave Flanagan.

Tyson, a Trail native, has been refereeing since 1989 when he started as a 15 years old. He spent the past three decades officiating in minor hockey, the KIJHL, and the BCHL, and views BC Hockey’s ultimatum as unfair and unwise.

“BC Hockey has taken their ball and bat and gone home, because they are mad that guys pulled out,” said Tyson. “I think that minor hockey is going to be affected, and I think the KIJHL is going to struggle.”

The referees were under the auspices of BC Hockey last season, but with the BCHL’s withdrawal from Hockey Canada, the BCHL referees and linespeople will not be able to work sanctioned leagues such as Greater Trail minor hockey (GTMHA) or KIJHL games.

“We want to work the highest level of hockey we can,” said Tyson. “The BCHL has always treated me well, they work around my shift work, and they’ve been first class, so it’s a no brainer for me to go to the BC Hockey League.”

The BCHL also recruited NHL referee Kelly Sutherland, former NHL officials Shane Heyer and Jay Sharrers, as well as Big Ten (NCAA) Coordinator of Officials Steve Piotrowski to act as development coaches and mentors for the BCHL’s Officiating Program for the 2023-24 season.

The group will work directly with BCHL officials, either attending games or watching video, to help them reach their development potential.

“The BCHL is looking after their referees, and there is going to be a lot of hockey to work,” said Tyson. “For West Kootenay guys it’s going to be Penticton, Trail, and Cranbrook, which is great and I’m all for it.”

KIJHL president Jeff Dubois knows most of the referees well. After working many seasons alongside as a hockey coach, he says he respects their decision.

“I know a lot of the officials on a first name basis and I really enjoyed being around those guys, and I know what a high level officiating group there is in the West Kootenay.

“I realize a bunch of those guys have made the decision to go to the BCHL and that’s 100 per cent fair.”

Dubois says he is confident that while missing several quality officials, BC Hockey will provide what’s required for the various leagues in the province including the KIJHL.

“We’re expecting not to have any issues filling our games, and we support BC Hockey’s stance in terms of not being able to officiate both sanctioned and unsanctioned hockey,” Dubois added.

Another long serving Trail referee, Jim Maniago, has done double-duty over the years, refereeing minor hockey games, as well as coaching and mentoring players. Last season Maniago coached his daughter’s minor hockey team to a provincial championship, and is worried that the young players will be impacted most by BC Hockey’s policy.

“It is going to have a significant effect on the other leagues around here,” said Maniago. “We lose eight of our highest level officials in Trail. GTMHA is extremely concerned that we won’t be able to host tournaments and even have officials to staff the league games at U15 and U18.”

Maniago believes that BC Hockey should reconsider their stance and make BCHL officials eligible to work minor hockey.

“I think that in bigger centres this isn’t an issue, but for us in Trail, it is devastating.”

Read: Trail minor hockey shares concerns over BC Hockey sanctions on BCHL

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Jim Bailey

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