The Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League has for a long time been a training ground for players, coaches and officials to gain more experience and develop their skills in preparation for a jump to a higher level of hockey.
The current pandemic has added a bit of a twist to that scenario as a trio of long-time officials are returning to the SJHL to get some much-needed live action in preparation for their biggest assignment of their respective careers.
“Brad (Howard, the SJHL’s Director of Officials) has been awesome sneaking us into more games,” says Adam Bloski, who along with Mike Langin and Tarrington Wyonzek, have been selected to be part of the officiating crew for the upcoming World Junior Hockey Championship to be held in Edmonton over the Christmas holidays. “This (the world junior event) is absolutely the biggest event I will have ever worked. It’s the pinnacle – very cool.”
With the pandemic forcing the International Ice Hockey Federation and Hockey Canada to stage the event in a bubble similar to what the National Hockey League did for its playoffs this fall, the decision was made to have all officials coming from Canada to limit the spread of the virus. That ultimately opened the door for Bloski, Langin and Wyonzek.
“It was definitely a surprise,” admitted Langin when being notified of the assignment. “It’s a pretty cool situation and it will be a unique experience being in the bubble so we will have to see what that is all about.”
It will be different from anything they have ever experienced that much is true. Bloski says beginning Dec. 6 the trio will have to self –isolate for a week before flying out to Edmonton where again they will be isolated for five full days in their hotel room. Once that is done then they will be together just as a group – along with 12 other referees and 11 more linesmen from across the country – getting up to speed before the first puck is dropped for real.
“I’m so excited,” says Wyonzek. “I’m expecting a lot of speed, a lot of talent and a lot of skill. There will be a lot of kids there from the NHL playing for their countries. The opportunity is amazing.”
Bloski normally splits his time between the American Hockey League and Western Hockey League while Wyonzek just completed his first year at the professional level working games in both the East Coast Hockey League and AHL. Langin has been out of the AHL for three years after spending two full seasons working games at that level and being on the NHL prospects list. He now works in the WHL as he relocated back to Saskatoon three years ago for a work opportunity, but with almost every level of hockey being temporarily shuttered, they turned to where it all started to get some game action before departing for Edmonton.
“I’m working out as much as I can and trying to get on the ice as much as I can,” says Wyonzek, who has worked some senior hockey in addition to SJHL contests this year. Bloski and Langin have also been involved in the early SJHL action, but all three know the next six weeks will be remarkable and very memorable.
“It’s one of the biggest tournaments the IIHF has to offer, but what makes it so special is being able to work with a bunch of close friends,” says Wyonzek.
Langin, who started officiating in Sylvan Lake (just west of Red Deer) years ago noted that the original schedule was to have games played in both Red Deer and Edmonton until the pandemic forced the decision to be made to play in the bubble. While thrilled with the opportunity he also says he feels there is a bit of what-could-have-been thoughts lurking in the background.
“It would have been sort of like a full circle from where I started from,” says Langin.
Impeccable credentials and talents got them noticed: Bloski and Wyonzek are past winners of the Saskatchewan Midget AAA Hockey League official of the year award; Bloski and Langin have both worked RBC Cups and Wyonzek has been involved in the last two Memorial Cups; Bloski with a World Junior “A” Challenge, Langin a World University Games in Russia and Wyonzek a world under-18 championship in Sweden are just highlights of lengthy resumes for all three.
A common thread, however, is the SJHL and the league couldn’t be prouder to have all three fulfilling lifelong dreams of working at the world junior event.