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Local officials get a clinic of their own

by Brian Compton
CONCEPTION BAY SOUTH, Newfoundland – The officiating crew for Monday’s Kraft Hockeyville game between the Winnipeg Jets and Ottawa Senators arrived at Robert French Memorial Stadium on Sunday afternoon and went straight to work.

A group consisting of referees Mike Leggo and Gord Dwyer and linesmen Scott Driscoll and David Brisebois held a clinic for local referees that featured both a classroom and on-ice session.

The on-ice session was first, as roughly 30 people hit the ice for some drills. Whether it was how to properly run a faceoff or learning how to get into proper position behind the net, the students had the chance to learn from the pros.

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"That was great," said Brisebois, who worked his first NHL game in 2000. "They were a little shy at the beginning, but they were asking pretty good questions."

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, some of the questions were in regards to their personal lives, given the amount of time that is spent away from home. An NHL official generally spends 22 days per month on the road during the regular season, which doesn't leave for much time with their families.

"Travel is the best part of the job and it's the worst part of the job," Driscoll told his students. "We spend a lot of time away from our families."

Added Brisebois: "A lot of us have kids. The time at home, you look forward to it. But you don't complain about it. It's part of the job."

Working with the aspiring local officials Sunday reminded Driscoll of the position he was in more than two decades ago. There was a time when working in the NHL was nothing more than a dream for him, too.

"It's nice to be with people that we were like once," Driscoll said. "It's nice to give back and talk with them. We just wanted them to know that yes, we work for the NHL now, but we were in their position once. We wanted to help them any way we possibly can."

Driscoll was adamant about the necessary ability to skate, as NHL officials must be in tremendous shape to try to keep up with the likes of Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin.

"If you can't skate, you can't officiate -- especially at high levels," Driscoll told them.

And even if they can, Driscoll told that the chances of getting a call from the sport's highest level are slim.

"We only lose maybe one or two guys a year, so there really isn't that much turnover," said Driscoll, who worked the 2004 and 2007 Stanley Cup Final. "The window of opportunity is small."

"The average guy who gets hired is probably 30," Dwyer added. "That's tough. I always tell kids to go to school and get an education. If you're 30 years old and don't have an education, what do you do?"

When the session concluded, Dwyer gushed about his previous experiences in Newfoundland. The eight-year veteran worked his way up the ranks and officiated several American Hockey League games in St. John's, which used to host the Toronto Maple Leafs' top affiliate. AHL hockey is returning to St. John's this season as it will host Winnipeg's top minor-league club.

"The people here are amazing," Dwyer said. "The first time I came here, we saw Gander. One of the linesmen's parents lived there. We walked into his parents' house, and they treated me like family. They were cooking me breakfast and supper … they treated me like I was in the family. And it's East-Coast Canada. Hockey's huge here." 

Leggo, who broke into the League in 1997, spent a lot of time as a child in Newfoundland. His father was born and raised on the other side of the island in Corner Brook, and would often take his son there to visit his grandparents.

"This is a beautiful area and this event has become huge," Leggo said. "I'm really looking forward to working the game. This is going to be a great experience."

Leggo's advice for the aspiring officials? Always work a game when available.

"Don't turn down those 8:30 a.m. games," Leggo told them. "The more hockey you get, the better you become. You can't teach experience."

Follow Brian Compton on Twitter: @BComptonNHL
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