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Young chasing dream of becoming NHL official

Son of former goalie in League has been working games since he was 15

by Heather Engel / Independent Correspondent

BUFFALO -- It didn't take long for Jack Young to know what he wanted to be when he grew up.

When he was 8 years old, he attended a Chicago Wolves American Hockey League game and was not only drawn to the officials, he was instantly hooked.

"As a young kid there are certain things, you get obsessed with them," Young said. "I was at the game and those guys in stripes, I got obsessed with it and I fell in love with it."

So much so, his parents bought him a referee sweater when he was 10. 

"I don't know if he felt bad for them because I used to yell at them," said his dad, Wendell Young, who was an NHL goalie for 10 seasons and also served as an assistant for Chicago of the AHL for six seasons before becoming GM in 2009. "But he would look up to the refs at our games more than he would look up to our players."

And though other kids went to hockey games in attire representing their favorite teams and players, Jack Young would be by the glass sporting the same black and white stripes and orange armband as the referee on the ice.

Once before a game, official Kyle Rehman called Young into the official's room and gave him his card, a whistle and his NHL referee sweater.

"I still to this day honor and cherish the sweater," Young said.

Though he doesn't wear that same sweater, the black and white stripes have become his work wardrobe as Young, now 18, is pursuing a career as an official. 

In August, he participated in the sixth annual NHL Exposure Combine, held at Harborcenter. The combine is where prospective officials go through fitness testing and drills in hopes of climbing the officiating ranks. For the second straight year, Young was the youngest of the 96 invited. 

His career began with reaching out locally in Illinois, working mites and squirts to midget and high school hockey. That helped him earn a spot in USA Hockey's Officiating Development Program, through which opened doors to work games in the North American Hockey League, including the 2019 Robertson Cup Final, and United States Hockey League.

"That was eye-opening for me because I was the youngest one in that program and working those games," said Young, who became a certified official when he was 15. "I was the same age as or younger than a lot of those players. That experience is very valuable, a great learning experience."

Young grew up surrounded by hockey, with his dad going 59-86-12 from 1985-95 with the Vancouver Canucks, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins and Tampa Bay Lightning. 
Wendell Young said his son is very humble, despite of all that he has done at such an early age.  

"He's pretty quiet about his accomplishments," he said. "He doesn't brag about anything; that's not in his DNA. He's very calm about it and going on his way. I think he's proud of himself and he should be, but at the same time, he's not anybody to brag."

Those within the officiating ranks have told Wendell that Jack is "ahead of the curve." He and his wife, Paula, have watched their son officiate and attend games as often as they can. The elder Young admits it can be hard to watch sometimes, given what officials can face from parents and coaches. But Jack's patience and ability to control the game and earn respect stand out and leave his father in awe.

"I'm amazed at what he does with his age," Wendell Young said. "My wife and I are very proud because I know how much he wants it and how dedicated he is to it. We're in 100 percent total backing up. We think it's awesome that he's getting a chance to pursue something he wants so bad."

Young, who will be officiating in the Anaheim Ducks Rookie Faceoff Tournament from Sept. 7-10 in addition to the NAHL and USHL this season, said he learned a lot from his first Combine to this year, including just how important athletic ability and fitness are to the role of an official. He credits many for helping him along the way and providing opportunities to a teenager with a dream. And though he's still learning the ropes and working his way up the ladder, he's already putting his passion for the stripes back into the community.

"If I can do anything to help out anyone, I'll do that," Young said. "I help out local officials in Illinois all the time. I attend seminars, I help teach everyone, I help on the ice mentoring officials. It's something I love to do; I love helping people because I love giving back to the game."

As for his ultimate goal, he has his sights set on the top.

"Most little kids want to be an NHL player when they grow up," he said. "I'll admit I had that feeling for a little bit but I found quickly that being an NHL referee is what I want to do. There's only 68 people in the entire world with that job. I'm working hard to achieve that goal, but also enjoying the ride of wherever it takes me for the time being." 

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