Local refs get taste of the pro game
BRECKENRIDGE – Normally, it’s youth clubs and adult rec leagues for local hockey referees. This week, it’s Mike Modano and Sergei Zubov.
The difference is awe-inspiring, said longtime Breckenridge official Geoff Palmer.
“I was very nervous,” said Palmer, who has officiated for the Dallas Stars this week during their preseason camp at the Stephen C. West Ice Arena. “It’s intimidating, but it’s just as fun as it is intimidating and scary. The guys are so big and so fast, and so much bigger and faster than anything I’m used to. You have to bring you’re level of reffing up a lot higher because their level is … well, they’re the best.”
This is the second year the Stars have graced the Steve with some early season training. Last year, the team came to town with a paired-down squad of 33 players. It didn’t need any local referees because it was mostly running drills, not scrimmages. That was a disappointment for local refs who were hoping to get on the ice with the pros.
“We were kind of hoping to (last year),” Palmer said. “So this year, it’s a special treat. We were up for the task right away … I’ve been thinking about it all year.”
Along with Palmer, locals Bobby Dore, Bryan Smith and assistant rink manager Kevin Zygulski have also been employed as refs this week. The Stars have had three scrimmages during their six-day stay, which ends today.
The refs went largely unnoticed by the players, which, as any official will say, means they’re doing their job.
“A lot of them are out there trying to make a team,” Zygulski said. “They’re not worried about the refs. They just want people who can keep up and do a good job.”
“Our main job was to drop the puck,” Palmer added. “There weren’t that many calls. Our main job was to stay out of their way, and that’s a hard enough job to begin with.”
One player, though, did go out of his way to acknowledge the effort the locals put in to make the team’s scrimmages run smoothly.
“One player came up and shook my hand and said thanks,” Palmer said of Stars center Jim Montgomery. “But that’s OK, this is their job. So I don’t expect them to.”
The Stars wrap up camp today with a morning practice before bussing to Denver for the preseason opener against the Colorado Avalanche tonight at the Pepsi Center.
For the local refs, it’s back to Midgets, Bantams, rec leagues and high school games.
“It’ll be a huge drop-off,” Palmer said. “It’ll be a big jump down in speed, but I’m ready to get back into it.”
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