ALUMNI SHINE AT PREDS CAMP
Date: Jun 28, 2019
By BROOKS BRATTEN
There are more than 200 hockey players participating in the Elite Edge Hockey Showcase this week, all of them with aspirations of advancing to higher levels of the game.
For the first time in the showcase’s 13-year history, there are 24 additional participants down the hall with similar dreams of one day making it to the top hockey leagues in the world. The only difference between them and their stickhandling counterparts is this group of 24 has whistles affixed to their hands when they step on the ice.
Former NHL referee – and current NHL officiating supervisor – Don Koharski, who runs his DK Ref Camps throughout the summer months, has brought his Elite Showcase Camp to Nashville to run alongside Elite Edge. It’s a meeting of two of the top showcases of their kind in North America, offering members not only unmatched exposure, but the opportunity to learn from those who have dedicated their lives to the game.
The man with 11 Stanley Cup Finals worked on his resume as an official, Koharski had been looking for a setup such as this for quite some time. While passing through Nashville as a League supervisor last season, he struck up a conversation with Predators Manger of Hockey Operations and Elite Edge Director Brandon Walker, their respective camps brought up in the dialogue.
A few months later, Koharski has 24 young officials lacing up their skates at Ford Ice Center in Nashville.
“It’s been my passion, my love, my work for since I was 18 years old when I turned pro in the old Western Hockey Association, and I just think officiating is an intricate part of the game,” Koharski said. “Our job at all levels, whether it’s the National Hockey League or peewee hockey, is to create a safe playing environment for those that play.”
That’s exactly what Koharski and his staff – including NHL referee Jon McIsaac, as well as NHL linesmen Bryan Pancich and Matt MacPherson, the latter of whom just worked Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final in Las Vegas – will aim to do in the coming days as they teach the young officials who will work games played by those skating at Elite Edge. Koharski can offer plenty of on-ice practice and off-ice classroom sessions, but it’s that high-pressure game action that can’t be replicated in any other manner.
“It is awesome to have Don and his officials part of our program,” said Elite Edge program director Brandon Walker. “We have a high level of play on the ice and want to develop our players, it is great to share that with officials striving to do the same thing.”
With recruiters from the NHL, ECHL, SPHL and USHL in attendance, among others, the exposure the officials receive this week could lead to something much bigger than just a few extra games in the summer months.
“It’s huge for these guys and they’re just enamored – enamored not so much with me, because I’m just an old, fat, grey-haired guy now,” Koharski joked, “but when they see actual guys they just saw on TV during the NHL season and they come up and introduce themselves, that’s a big deal. But we also let them know that the amateur guys can succeed at the top levels, too. Not everybody is made for the National Hockey League, but your goal could be just getting to an Olympics and then settling in doing NCAA hockey or minor league hockey.”
There are only 24 skaters here wearing the stripes who are already serious about officiating, but that doesn’t mean someone out there holding a stick in their hands won’t trade it in for a whistle one day. And while the focus for the foreseeable future for most will be on making it as a professional player, Koharski encouraged the Elite Edge participants not to discount a profession that may be seen as a negative to most.
When the tough moment comes for most to make a decision on their hockey-playing future, there might just be a way to stay on the ice.
“We’re all frustrated players at one time, officials in all sports,” Koharski said. “I addressed the group and I told them, ‘Boys, there are 749 jobs available in the National Hockey League, and there’s 2.4 million hockey players trying to get those spots. If you want to stay in the game and not play in the beer league after work on Thursday night, you might want to think about officiating and bring that hockey passion to the dark side.”
If so, Koharski will be waiting to roll out the welcome mat.