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Young officials to be honored during HWAA

Thursday, 02.16.2012 / 9:06 PM / Hockey Weekend Across America

By Davis Harper - NHL.com Staff Writer

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Young officials to be honored during HWAA
For the first time, youth referees will be honored alongside the youth players as the weekend expands to recognize everyone who make hockey possible.
Jake Wojnicki needed some cash -- "a primary source of income," as he put it.

As a 13-year-old, Wojnicki's monetary prospects were limited - but as it turned out, he needed to look no further than his local hockey rink. Already an avid player, the Escondido, Calif., resident took a hammer to his piggy bank, paid the registration fee and joined the San Diego Hockey Referee Association. A year later, he had earned his certification and traded his player's sweater for referee's stripes.

Six years on, Wojnicki, now 19, officiates Tier II U-18 games while earning his education at Thomas Edison University. On Saturday, Wojnicki will get to Staples Center a couple of hours ahead of the Kings 7:30 p.m. PT puck drop against the Calgary Flames -- and will get a chance to meet the titans of his trade: an NHL officiating crew.

Wojnicki is one of 32 youth officials who will be given a chance to shadow their NHL counterparts as part of Hockey Weekend Across America. For the first time, youth referees will be honored alongside the youth players as the weekend expands to recognize everyone who make hockey possible.

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"We wanted to identify officials in various cities – specifically those that are hosting NHL games this weekend – and give them an opportunity to attend the game and interact with on-ice officials," said Matt Leaf, the director of USA Hockey's Officiating Education Program. "These are the ones out there working the 6 a.m. squirt games Saturday morning – they play an important role in our sport."

USA Hockey and the NHL's officiating arm worked in tandem with district refereeing chiefs to find officials they thought would be a good fit. Wojnicki, who started with the squirts and worked his way from there, was a natural choice. The Southern California native might have started officiating for the quick money, but it soon became much more.

"The further along I got, after my first year, I wasn't in it for the money anymore," Wojnicki said. "I liked doing it, I liked the guys, I liked the experience. It teaches you a lot of life lessons, game management, things like that."

While Wojnicki said he still plays here and there, his main focus is on officiating – "moving up the ladder." He says he would jump at an opportunity to officiate in the NHL, much the same way he jumped at the opportunity to meet with NHL officials this weekend.

"I didn't know much about it, besides that it was a Kings game and that I would have a chance to meet the officials," Wojnicki said. "It sounded like a great opportunity. It's not something you turn down."

Sixteen teams in all will honor two local officials. Leaf said each team has license to honor them with "whatever festivities they deem appropriate," whether it be skating on the ice, a ceremonial puck drop or something similar. But all will get the chance to meet the officiating crew before the game. While Wojnicki hasn't agonized over this meeting – he's already met a couple of current NHL linesmen – he does have a few questions in mind.

"I want to talk to them about what their mindset is going into the game," Wojnicki said. "Maybe just a little about game management, how they go about that. Whether they have any little tricks that they tried to do when they were officiating to help them get to where they are now."
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