I attended the Games Officials programme in Vierumaki, Finland last week and my time there was amazing.
When we arrived in Vierumaki we were directed into one of the halls where we registered for our course and we were given our passes and room keys for the week. After that it was off to the opening ceremony where Dave Fitzpatrick talked about how this was only the beginning in our journey into the sport of ice hockey and he wished us all the best for the coming week and in our future in the sport. We were separated into our different groups and were taken away to our classrooms to be given our schedules for the week. When we got to our classroom the coaches sat everyone down and each of us introduced ourselves, where we came from and what experience we had. There were guys there who are officiating games in the SM Liga, the German DEL etc, so it was pretty amazing to hear about their experiences.
Once we had the introductions done we were told to go out to the football field for some team building exercises. When we got there we were given a blindfold and were told that with a piece of rope we would have to make a square with it whilst blindfolded. To say it was funny is an understatement but we did pretty well and came close to getting it done. We then went back to class to see what time we were on the ice for and then it was back to the cabin to catch up on some much needed sleep before practice the next day at 8am.
On Monday we had an early start and an early practice which was spent mainly going through proper power skating techniques for linesman and referees. We went back to class and the schedule for the games that week were posted and I was assigned the first game of the camp, so I was nervous and excited at the same time and I looked forward to getting out there and doing a game.
When we got to the class we were all given a tracksuit and t-shirt for the on-ice sessions as we were a team so we had to look and dress like a team! The class room sessions were tutored by 3 members of the IIHF Officiating Committee which included Konstantin Komissarov from Russia, Reto Bertolotti from Switzerland and Matt Leaf from the United States who went through the proper way of doing games and the proper positioning that was expected from Officials at IIHF events.
So after a good long day learning and meeting new people, it was game time and I was rearing to get out on the time for the first game of the day. Myself and the two other officials were assigned for the game. We arrived at the rink 1 hr 30 mins beforehand and we talked about what each person likes to do and what way we would work the game and then we went out to get ready. The game itself was brilliant, there were kids from over 50 countries taking part and it was a fast paced game with some nice goals and some really good saves. When it was over we were taken outside and we were told by our coach what we had done right and what we need to work on over the week before our next game on Friday afternoon.
The next couple of days were the same, we would be on the ice at 8am and would go through the skating techniques and at the end of each session we would play ice ball; it was like Gaelic on ice which was really good fun. We also learned that when we weren’t doing a game we would be in groups of 4 and we would be watching one of the games and the next day we would have to give our own feedback about the game, such as the good points and the negative points about it. The classroom sessions were really good as we went through what procedures both the referees and the linesmen have before, during and after a game and what was expected of you. We also looked at video examples from the recent IIHF World Championships in Slovakia were different situations were shown with regards to penalties, no goals, Illegal hits etc.
On Wednesday we went into Helsinki and had a nice relaxing day which we spent looking around the city and enjoying the sites it had to offer. We also went out to look at the main rink in Helsinki were the Finnish National team play and what a site it was, considering it was built in 1966 it was amazing to look at it. We headed back to Vieurmaki later on that evening after a fantastic day and looked forward to our fitness test and skating test the next morning.
On Thursday we got a surprise as we were told we won’t have any tests today that we would just be playing ice ball all morning, so it was nice and was a great way to get together as a group and have some fun before the games that night. In the classroom we were visited by the Finnish Referee-In-Chief who had been watching all our games so far and he was pleased with how we were getting on in the games and how we were gelling as a group off the ice with each other.
On Friday it was time for the tests, something that everyone had been dreading all week, but they weren’t too bad. Everyone was helping each other out and praising them and making sure they got through it, so it was a good sign to see how well we got on. After it was done we headed back to the class to discuss yesterday’s games and to get ready for our own games later on that evening. Once again I arrived at the rink ready for the game and it couldn’t have went better, all the stuff we had learned through the week was paying off and it showed in the game that evening. After it we were given our assessment by the coaches and they had nothing bad to say about the game or our procedures.
On Saturday we had the World Ice Ball Federation cup in which we were split in to 6 teams of 5 players and unforgettably my team lost in the final in a shoot out, but it was good fun and really enjoyable. We then headed back to the classroom where we had a chance to ask our coaches about their time as referees/linesman and what they most remembered from their time; both good points and bad points. This was a good experience as we learned a lot from them and what they had to share with us.
Then it was onto the closing ceremony in which all teams including the officials had to perform a “skit” for a bit of fun and to relax from the week. The officials won it hands down as we did one showing how we “warmed up” for a game by practicing our calls to the sound of “lean on me” it was very funny and everyone really enjoyed it.
Overall it was the best experience I’ve had and I learned so much from it. This has been an invaluable experience that I’m proud to say I was there. I met some fantastic people who were really helpful to me and who showed me some stuff I was doing wrong. It was far more than what I expected and if I was given the opportunity I would love to go back to Finland again it was so good. I am extremely thankfully that I got the opportunity to go and represent Ireland and the IIHA at this event and hope to do so again in the future.