Of all the ways to remain in the game after Junior hockey, officiating is maybe the one the PJHL provides the best training ground for.
With an elite level of competition, a demanding schedule and high expectations from coaches and fans, PJHL players have an innate understanding of what makes a good official.
A couple of talented PJHL players, one currently in the league and another who graduated last season are currently plying their trade in stripes and are planning a future in it.
Trevor Baron of the North Van Wolf Pack and Brayden Stewart, who posted 23 goals and 27 assists last season with Mission City, both work high-level games with Stewart now a PJHL official himself.
Playing Junior hockey has given Stewart the trained eyes and ears required to handle a high-stakes hockey game involving players not much younger than himself. He acknowledges his playing background is a major asset these days.
“It definitely helps me in more ways than none,” says Stewart. “Playing in the league helped me understand how junior players act, the emotions and the tendencies of players and how they feel in certain situations on the ice. I understand their position because I was once in that same place.”
Baron, who is approaching 100 PJHL games played and is also in his seventh season as an official, finds himself at a rink about six nights a week between his own games and practices and the games where he’s in stripes. He credits his playing experience in shaping his officiating philosophy.
“Junior hockey has helped me understand that the communication with players and officials are important,” says the 19-year-old. “Understanding multiple points of view is something I take into consideration when I’m officiating.”
A Coquitlam native who has split this season between Aldergrove and North Van, Baron believes seeing the game through a different lens is its own reward.
“What motivated me to get into officiating was having to learn a totally different perspective on the game,” says Baron. “As an official, there are many obstacles you have to encounter, although I enjoy having the responsibility of managing them while being accountable.”
Stewart recently turned 22 and has in his mind the highest level of the game as he hopes to take this path to and turn it into a career. Before getting there, he knows he needs to gain experience on the next rungs of the ladder.
“Obviously the goal for most officials working at high levels is to officiate in the NHL,” says Stewart. “But for me right now, I’m striving to make the jump to the WHL in the next few seasons and get my IIHF (International Ice Hockey Federation) license as well.”
He’s going to have a chance to get seen working a high profile stage coming up this month as he’s earned an assignment to work the Canada Winter Games happening Feb. 17 to 26 in Prince Edward Island.
“It’ll be a great opportunity for me and it will be cool to see teams and players from all over Canada,” notes Stewart. “It’s something you don’t get to do very often so I am extremely excited and looking forward to working that tournament.”
In the meantime, he may find himself working in PJHL games involving players like Baron and others who are former teammates.
“It’s always good to see former teammates,” says Stewart. “I still keep in touch with some of them; they are good friends of mine outside of hockey. Cayden Karcioglu and Josh Romeyn definitely top that list of favourite teammates of mine to officiate.”
With his focus now full-time on refereeing, Stewart has new takeaways when he’s watching pros play the game.
“When I watch NHL games… I pay more attention to the referees and how they handle situations, their positioning, demeanour, professionalism, and composure, and I try to implement that into my game,” says Stewart. “I have been fortunate enough to have talked to a couple NHL officials and pick their brain about different things I can do to improve my game.”
Good call. With the grounding Brayden Stewart and Trevor Baron have gotten as players, and the work they’re putting in now, there’s a fair chance you’ll be seeing them again at a rink near you. And maybe not just at the Junior level.