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Only yells of appreciation for Hockeyville officials

by Brian Compton
TERRACE, B.C. -- The life of an NHL official isn't easy.

It involves a lot of travel, which translates into a lot of time spent away from family. It means a lot of conditioning, which means plenty of time at the gym.

And it means a lot of screaming from fans, players and coaches, so pats on the back are few and far between.

But Sunday night in Kraft Hockeyville, it meant a chance to give back. Best of all, there was no yelling -- just a lot of appreciation from a town that welcomed referees Steve Kozari and Kelly Sutherland and linesmen Lonnie Cameron and Brad Lazarowich -- all natives of this province -- with open arms.

"We sit down at lunch today and we're signing autographs," Cameron told  "I think the people here realize that we're an intricate part of it. We're not the show, but we have a role. We have the best players, and we consider ourselves the best officials. It's a great job and it's a great career. We have a blast."

The foursome gathered at the Terrace Sportsplex both to speak and to skate with aspiring referees in the area. The clinic began with a 60-minute classroom session, where the locals got to ask questions about life in the NHL and how they were able to work their way up to the sport's highest level.

After the classroom session, everyone hit the ice for some drills. All the bases were covered and the students felt lucky to have a chance to learn from the pros who will handle Monday night's game between the Vancouver Canucks and New York Islanders.

"I got to learn a lot of things today," said Jim Storey, who made the five-hour trip from Fraser Lake, B.C., to attend the clinic. "The guys told us to take our time, learn the calls, sell the calls and be in position to make the right calls. The guys were just dynamite with us. They're so smooth skating. It's amazing. Those guys are just larger than life on that ice surface. The small amount they did in that hour will just balloon this whole area. It's really helpful."

Lazarowich, who has worked more than 1,500 NHL games, was thrilled to have a chance to come in and work with the locals. After all, he used to be in the position they're in today.

"Coming back to the grass roots of hockey, it brings back so many great memories," said Lazarowich, who started in the NHL in 1986. "This is my 24th NHL season. You don't forget about grass-roots hockey, but you forget about the whole beginning of it and where you started from. We all started in towns like this. It's fantastic."

Sutherland, who made his NHL debut in 2000, grew up in the Vancouver area and knows he's in for a treat on Monday night. On Sunday, he was treated to a clinic that featured some highly impressive students.

"It was basic referee boot camp," Sutherland said. "This group was really talented. They had some experience. You could see it. This was great. It was like being back in the junior hockey days. This is a great honor." 

Kozari, a Penticton B.C. native, has been in Terrace several times before as a player, but this trip may very well end up being his most memorable one. "It's a great honor to come back to Terrace," Kozari said. "I played a couple of tournaments here, so it's good to be back. It brings back a lot of memories. It all starts with the grass roots. These guys were enthusiastic. It was a really fun group to work with. It was really neat. It's a great turnout."
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