When the 2019 Canada Winter Games kick off in Red Deer, Alta. Friday, the Western Hockey League will have plenty of representation in the hockey spectrum.
In addition to the 79 WHL prospects named to four provincial and two territorial teams, seven current WHL officials will represent the league at the quadrennial event.
“This is a significant development opportunity for officials, both referees and linesmen, just like it is for players,” said Kevin Muench, the Senior Director, Officiating for the WHL. “For the officials to be exposed to this caliber of play, certainly gives them a good indication of where their skill is right now.”
The provinces of British Columbia, Alberta, and Saskatchewan will each be represented by a pair of officials while Manitoba will be sending a single WHL Official to the event.
From British Columbia, linesmen Cole Cooke and Bradley Parker will be working at the event. From Alberta, referees Mason Stewart and Austin Weisgerber will take part as well. Like B.C., Saskatchewan will also send a pair of linesmen in Levi Schutz and Aidan Penner. Lane Gramiak, a linesman with the WHL from Manitoba, will also be working at the event.
As Muench explained, the Canada Winter Games not only serve as a training ground for WHL prospects, but for their officials as well. The event is part of a program in partnership with Hockey Canada, all provincial and territorial branches, as well as the Canadian Hockey League. As part of an evaluation process that includes the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge, officials have the opportunity to grow from the experience. Muench highlighted the path officials had taken in the past, working at the Canada Winter Games and in the WHL before moving on to the National Hockey League.
“They compare themselves to the other officials at the tournament as well,” added Muench. “We’re certainly going to be in attendance watching the officials to get a feel of their development and the progress they’ve made so far in their career.”
The male hockey tournament will feature teams from all 10 provinces and three territories. The same will be true for the composition of officials, providing those in the WHL with a chance to interact face-to-face with colleagues from across the country. Muench said the perspective added from working with officials in other provincial branches would be a benefit for all.
“It becomes not only a good bonding time, but they really grow to a team atmosphere very quickly,” said Muench.
The 2019 Canada Winter Games begin Friday, February 15 in Red Deer, Alta. with the opening ceremonies. The male tournament begins Saturday, February 16 and wraps up Friday, February 22. The bronze and gold medal games will be played at The Centrium, home of the WHL’s Red Deer Rebels.