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High school student officials spend pre-game with NHL crew during Hockey Weekend Across America

by Gordy Stillman / New Jersey Devils
Standing side by side with the on ice team, Alec Caseiro and Nick Casais listen to the performance of the national anthem. Caseiro and Casais gathered advice and tips about officiating from the night's referees and linesmen before heading onto the ice. Photo by Patrick Dodson

Alec Caseiro had skated on the Prudential Center ice before. The 18-year-old forward for Bridgewater-Raritan competed in the 2013 and 2014 NJSIAA High School Hockey tournaments, reaching the Public A Finals at The Rock. On February 19 Caseiro was back on the New Jersey Devils’ ice as a youth hockey official, joining fellow youth hockey referee Nick Casais in a pre-game skate with NHL officials before a Devils game.

Caseiro and Casais met with NHL officials ahead of the game as part of USA Hockey’s Hockey Weekend Across America, a grassroots initiative to celebrate the game and give those who have not had the opportunity the chance to play and enjoy the sport. After off ice officials spoke about their various roles and what goes into an NHL game over dinner, introducing the kids to Devils PA announcer Kevin Clark and radio play-by-play announcer Matt Loughlin along the way, it was time to get ready for the game. The two teenagers went to the officials’ locker room, where they changed into their uniforms and got to meet with and gather advice from the on-ice crew.

“They’re really cool guys,” Casais said after meeting the officials. The referees told him not to worry about what other people say while on the ice, and to focus on maintaining authority on the ice and teaching kids to play properly. Caseiro called it an honor to be at Prudential Center getting “an NHL experience,” and added he considers pursuing NHL officiating as a career.

“It’s a great possibility. I love officiating and do it almost every weekend,” the high school senior said. “You never know what will happen in the future.” Casais said the prospect of being an NHL official was also something that interested him.

Joined by the NHL's off ice official, Caseiro and Casais take a pre-game photo from the zamboni tunnel. Earlier in the evening, the NHL crew spoke about their various responsibilities as they had dinner with the teenage officials. Photo by Patrick Dodson

“We’ve all been in their shoes, starting out somewhere,” NHL referee Ian Walsh said. Walsh, in his 17th year with the league, said he had the chance to meet with NHL officials when he was a teenager in the Philadelphia area, thanks to a friend who worked with the Flyers organization. “It was one of those things I’ll always look back on. I’d try to pick their brains and learn things before their games or after their games, whenever I’d have a chance to meet them.”

As a referee, Caseiro gains a new perspective, which he said adds to his skills as a player. “Refereeing helped me to open my mind and see different aspects of playing hockey.” With a father who officiated lacrosse, Caseiro chose to follow his father’s lead, but along the path of his own sport, and has been an official for the past five years.

Casais followed a similar path. The 15-year-old defenseman was inspired by one of his father’s childhood friends, Dave Brown, who led him to attend a referee seminar when he was 13 years old. “It seemed like a cool job to have,” Casais said of the appeal. Covering mite and peewee level games, Casais is occasionally only a few years older than the skaters he oversees. Casais said he uses his closeness to make the kids feel like he is “just one of them.” Casais added, “I’m just trying to teach them how to play the game.”

Once pre-game warmups were done, Caseiro and Casais took to the ice with the officials, skating out to center ice for the national anthem. “It’s been a pretty cool experience,” Casais said afterward.

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