NHL refs prep for Thornbury training camp
THORNBURY - The men who patrol North America's pro ice rinks will be back in the area in September to gear up for the upcoming NHL season.
This is the fifth year the National Hockey League's officiating staff have held their training camp in The Blue Mountains, and according to referee Stephen Walkom, the trip north has proven to be a rewarding and refreshing experience for the men who keep order on North America's professional ice rinks.
"A lot of the guys had never been up there, and the first time, it was a real surprise for everybody," he said. "Training camp, at one time, was something we all dreaded.
"But now we look forward to getting on the bus (to come north) to get ready for the season," he said. "It's about team building and learning, and it gets us in the right mode for the season."
Walkom said the experience is hearkens back to the hockey experience of many of the referees and linesmen.
"Most of us grew up in areas where the rink was the community centre, and working in big cities and big rinks, and going up to a community centre brings us back to that. For us, it's about getting back to the basics.
"We work on the playing side and the team-building side - and a lot on the mental side."
It also presents a unique opportunity for the entire officiating team to get together at the beginning of the season - a chance they won't have once the season gets underway in October.
"There's only one time when Terry (Gregson) and the management team can sit down and see us together," said Walkom. "It gets us comfortable and open to learning," he said. "And playing hockey reminds us why we're in the game."
Walkom noted the business of hockey has almost become a "year-round thing"; as soon as the playoffs are done, there's the rookie draft, GM meetings, and the NHL research and development camp (held last week at the Air Canada Centre).
"Terry expects us to come in shape; at the camp, it's about fine-tuning."
Gregson, the senior vice president and director of officiating for the NHL - and a former ref himself - said he's pleased the officiating staff have been able to return to the community.
"We have never returned to a community as often as we have to The Blue Mountains," said Gregson. "We decided to do so because of the quality of the facilities, services and people in the community. The management team and NHL officials look forward to this time in The Blue Mountains to prepare for the upcoming hockey season."
The municipality's director of recreation, Shawn Everitt, noted the town has "developed an excellent relationship with the NHL Officials.
"They are an incredible group of athletes and we are so pleased to host them and offer them the Beaver Valley Community Centre as one of the training locations for the officials."
"We are thrilled to host the NHL officials this year," added Mayor Ellen Anderson. "We hope that the community will come out to see the training camp."
As part of the training, the officials participate in a hockey tournament; the final game will be Sept. 13 at 10 a.m. at the Beaver Valley Community Centre. Admission is free.
"We have shown that we have the services necessary to host such a high profile event," said Everitt.
The NHL officials are also organizing a family-oriented community event for Sept. 13 at the New Town Hall, 32 Mill Street, Thornbury. Admission is free.
"The officials and management team are very kind, hard working and dedicated to their profession," said Anderson. "It is always a pleasure to have them visit, and train in our community."
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