STIRLING, Ontario -- The officiating crew for Saturday's Kraft Hockeyville game between the Winnipeg Jets and Washington Capitals arrived at Stirling Rawdon & District Recreation Centre on Friday night and went straight to work.
A group consisting of referees Greg Kimmerly and Kevin Pollock and linesmen Steve Barton and Derek Nansen -- the foursome that will officiate Saturday's game at Yardmen Arena in nearby Belleville -- held a clinic for local referees that featured a classroom and an on-ice session.
The on-ice session was first, and more than dozen local officials hit the ice for some drills. Whether it was how to properly conduct a faceoff or learning how to properly assess penalties, the students had the rare opportunity to learn from the pros.
"It's always a lot of fun to work with people that are trying to better themselves, coming to clinics like this," said Kimmerly, who officiated his first NHL game in 1996. "You get to pass on some of the wisdom, some of what we learned when we were growing up. I was 17 or 18 starting out and still playing hockey at the time. We just try to pass along some of the pointers that we can."
After they honed their skills on the ice, the students headed upstairs for a classroom session, which featured a video and an opportunity to ask questions about life as an NHL official. Naturally, the majority of the questions revolved around their time spent on the ice, ranging from, "Who is the most talented player in the League?" to "Is John Tortorella like that in real life?"
The chance to help the aspiring local officials Friday reminded Nansen of when he started officiating games at the age of 11. There was a time when working in the NHL was nothing more than a dream for him too.
"I attended a lot of these camps coming up," said Nansen, who grew up in Kanata, Ontario. "I took in all the mentorship that I got and I really enjoyed it. I honestly think it really helped me in my development coming through. I started officiating minor hockey when I was 11 years old, so I took in everything I could and tried to make use of it. I started out like these days one day, too. I think it's very beneficial for everybody and it's a lot of fun for us as well.
"It's fun to actually give back for once, especially early in the season when you can kind of send them off in the right direction. Even if they get one or two tips from us, I think it's a great success. They were all having a good time out here and they worked hard. I think they got something out of it."
Pollock worked his way up to the NHL via the Ontario Hockey League. Saturday, he'll return to Yardmen Arena, where he officiated several Belleville Bulls games. The memories began to come back the moment he arrived in Stirling on Friday.
"I came through the Ontario Hockey League," said Pollock, who grew up in Kincardine, Ontario, a town of about 11,000 people. "I got hired in 1998-99 and had done the Memorial Cup in Ottawa and the Belleville Bulls actually played in that Memorial Cup. That playoff run Belleville had, I had the opportunity to ref a lot of playoff games and I have a lot of fond memories of Belleville.
"Anytime that you can actually bring the NHL to the grass roots and show people that maybe would never have the opportunity to see an NHL game, really that's what hockey's all about."
Stirling-Rawdon won the Kraft Hockeyville competition in the spring of 2012 but didn't have the opportunity to host an NHL preseason game last fall due to the work stoppage. The community, which received $100,000 from Kraft Canada to upgrade the Stirling Rawdon & District Recreation Centre, will get their game Saturday when the Jets and Capitals drop the puck on the 2013 preseason.
Barton, an Ontario native, loves the concept of Kraft Hockeyville and is thrilled to have the opportunity to participate.
"It's a lot of fun for us," said Barton, who grew up in Vankleek Hill, an hour east of Ottawa. "We're all from small towns, a lot like Stirling. We love doing this kind of stuff. Hockeyville's a special day for Stirling, so we're lucky we got to come out and help them out."