Oft overlooked, it’s rare the men in stripes get recognition for their accomplishments in and around the hockey rink.
A trio of Western Hockey League officials skated on significant stages as the 2016-17 campaign came to a close this past month. Referee Steve Papp took to the ice for his first ever Mastercard Memorial Cup appearance, the lone WHL official to represent at the national event. Overseas, referee Brett Iverson and linesman Nathan Van Oosten took to international ice by serving at the 2017 IIHF World Championship in France and Germany.
“The Western Hockey League is extremely proud of all three officials and their accomplishments,” said Kevin Muench, the WHL’s Director of Officiating. “Their dedication and commitment provides a good example for how success can be achieved, and serves as both encouragement and inspiration for other officials aspiring to follow in their footsteps.”
Iverson, a 31-year-old native of Richmond, B.C., was previously recognized with the 2017 Allen Paradice Memorial Trophy for WHL Official of the Year before skating in his second consecutive IIHF World Championship.
“It was my longest season to date in terms of number of games worked,” Iverson said. “I put in a lot of time and effort, both on and off the ice, so to be rewarded as the Official of the Year is a tremendous honour.
“The success I had this season was made possible because of my previous experiences over the years, so I just need to stay focused mentally and physically moving forward.”
The veteran official, who just completed his ninth season in the WHL, has been nothing short of stellar over his time enforcing the rulebook, having had the opportunity to provide his services at two Mastercard Memorial Cups (2014, 2015), three WHL Championship Series (2013, 2014, 2015), the 2015 IIHF World Junior Championship, 2015 IIHF World U18 Championship and 2009 IIHF World U17 Championship.
“It’s an unbelievable experience to be selected for a tournament of this magnitude,” Iverson said of skating at the 2017 IIHF World Championship. “The speed of the game and skill level of the players makes for a high-energy environment, which is exciting to be a part of.
“It’s a very long tournament and I’m glad I had the experience from last year’s tournament in Russia to better prepare me, physically and mentally, going into this year.”
Over a nine-year WHL career, Iverson has skated in 457 career WHL regular season contests and another 57 WHL playoff games.
Papp, a 32-year-old native of Kelowna, was the lone WHL official to serve at the 2017 Mastercard Memorial Cup in Windsor, Ont. He skated alongside six linesmen from the Ontario Hockey League, two referees from the OHL and one referee from the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
“It was the experience of a lifetime to have the chance to be a part of the top major junior hockey in Canada,” Papp said. “To see the Memorial Cup raised is a memory I’ll never forget. It’s an honour to have been in the company of such great officials and Windsor was a great host city. The organizing committee, CHL and all the volunteers made our experience most enjoyable.
“The team of officials had to come together, learn each other’s tendencies and what the teams were like. The entire tournament flew by. Looking back, it was a great experience and one I’ll cherish forever.”
A veteran of 11 WHL seasons, Papp continues to provide exemplary service after working his fourth consecutive WHL Championship Series this past spring. Additionally, Papp has previously been called upon to skate at the 2014 NHL Combine Camp, 2014 IIHF World Junior Championship, 2013 IIHF World U18 Championship, 2011 RBC Cup, IIHF World Junior A Challenge (2010, 2011) as well as the 2007 Canada Winter Games.
“The first question that’s asked after working the Memorial Cup is, ‘Are you going to the NHL?’” Papp said. “Of course I’d love to – it’s a dream all referees have – but it’s not in the cards for me. I have a beautiful wife and two kids at home. As incredible as it would be to ref in the NHL, being a father is my greatest accomplishment.”
Over an 11-year WHL career, Papp has skated in 538 career WHL regular season contests and another 78 WHL playoff games.
Rounding out the crew is Van Oosten, a 33-year-old native of Surrey, B.C. The veteran WHL linesman worked his first ever IIHF World Championship at the conclusion of the year, building upon an international resume that saw him skate in his first IIHF World Junior Championship back in December and January.
“It was an unbelievable opportunity to officiate at that event,” Van Oosten said of finishing his season at the 2017 IIHF World Championship. “It was unique in that it provided me a platform to utilize my skills and experience from the WHL to officiate some of the best players and hockey in the world.
“It was an honour and a privilege to be a small part of such a great tournament.
“Being fortunate enough to work both [the World Championship and World Junior Championship] assignments has offered me the chance to cultivate great friendships with officials from around the world.”
Van Oosten continues to provide reliable expertise on the ice, having dressed in 13 playoff games through the first three rounds of the 2017 WHL Playoffs before heading to Europe.
Over an 11-year WHL career, Van Oosten has seen action in 361 WHL regular season contests and 78 WHL playoff games. He has been called upon to work three WHL Championship Series (2013, 2014, 2016), two Mastercard Memorial Cups (2013, 2016) and numerous international events, including the 2016 IIHF World U18 Championship, the 2015 World University Games (FISU Universiade), the 2014 IIHF World Junior Championship (Group B), the 2009 RBC Cup and the 2007 IIHF World Junior A Challenge.
“Officiating in the WHL has opened the door to events like these,” Van Oosten said. “Kevin Muench and the supervisory staff help us to be successful on the ice through preparation and support.
“The success of this season has instilled confidence in my abilities and, at the same time, exposed certain areas where I can work to improve.
“As with every season, continuing to improve is my aim.”
While Iverson, Papp and Van Oosten have all cut their teeth and established themselves within the WHL Officiating ranks, a new set of young, hopeful officials land in Calgary this weekend. From June 9 to 11, the WHL will host its High Performance Officiating Exposure Camp for 24 of the top officiating prospects aspiring to join the WHL ranks. Attendees will run through a series of on- and off-ice sessions in hopes of further developing their knowledge and skill set, with sights set on one day advancing to the WHL Officiating team.
A select number of participants will be invited to compete for a spot on the WHL Officiating team in August.