Cassidy taking his referee career to another level
The journey has been both lengthy and fulfilling.
Matt Cassidy of Red Deer played minor hockey to the age of 13, then decided he preferred the role played by the men in stripes. He started as an on-ice official of minor hockey games and this year was hired — on a full-time basis — as a Western Hockey League referee.
“Jim Claggett, a referee at the time, got me started,” said Cassidy. “I started to make some money doing something different and just fell in love with it. This is my 10th season since I started and I’ve worked my way through minor hockey and into junior.”
Along the way, Cassidy has landed a couple of Hockey Canada gigs — working as a linesmen during the 2009 Western Canada Under 16 Challenge Cup at Blackfalds and as a referee during the 2012 Telus Cup at Leduc — and has attended numerous Hockey Alberta camps.
“I’ve been to Program of Excellence camps where they evaluate officials as well as players,” he said. “Whenever they have scrimmages at these camps they need refs, and that way they can develop officials as well as players. It’s quite the process.”
Cassidy has also attended Hockey Alberta referee clinics and camps that focus on skating skills and rules knowledge and culminate in exams for officials attempting to attain certification at various levels.
He has also participated in WHL I.D. camps and is now a member of the league’s full-time referee roster.
Cassidy worked his first-ever WHL regular season contest Sept. 25 at Edmonton, where the host Oil Kings were blanked 6-0 by the Regina Pats.
“That was exciting, a lot of fun,” he said.
“I felt a bit of pressure but I think I was ready to take the next step so it was just exciting to get out there.”
Cassidy’s days as a minor hockey referee are pretty much over, although he did officiate a midget AA game last weekend.
“I was filling in because no one else was available. When you get a call, it doesn’t matter what level — you just go and do it,” said the 24-year-old, a volunteer officials clinic coordinator for Central Alberta.
He admitted that he had to grow a thicker epidermis to perform his on-ice duties, particularly at the minor level.
“I think that you definitely have to have the right type of personality to deal with conflict. You have to learn how to deal with it, whether you use the rule book or whether you use communication,” said Cassidy. “You need a thick skin just to put up and deal with some of those moms and dads who coach (from the stands).
“It’s something that as you get better as an official you also get better at dealing with. When I was younger, I used the rule book a lot and give out lots of bench minors and kicked coaches out of games. Now I try and position myself so that I don’t have to do that. Honestly, when you referee a game the less penalties you call the better. I think all referees are hockey fans. I hate it when you influence a game, but you have to do your job.”
Cassidy, whose assignments consist mainly of Alberta Junior League and WHL games — at roughly a 60-40 rate — but also include junior B, Chinook senior and college contests, cites local officials Paul Coad and Curtis Nichols, the Hockey Alberta referee in chief, as two of his main mentors.
Regarding a source of inspiration, former Red Deer junior B player and current NHL referee Kyle Rehman is at the top of that list. Cassidy noted that Rehman, who has worked his way up the ranks and in 2006 was named the WHL referee of the year, has never forgotten his roots.
“He does a lot of work with the Western League and Hockey Alberta,” said Cassidy. “He helps Hockey Alberta and gives back to every league he’s ever been a part of, which is huge. He teaches power skating, how to deal with coaches . . . it’s incredible the experience that he has.
“He’s helped me, he’s helped people before me and he’ll help people after me. He’s an inspiration, for sure.”
Cassidy also sees Rehman as a prime example of someone who quickly climbed the ladder due to his diligence and dedication.
“He’s a guy who started and then just ran with it. He’s in the NHL 10 to 12 years after he started refereeing,” said Cassidy, a Red Deer insurance broker by day. “It just goes to show there are some huge opportunities. I want to see how far I can go with this . . . hopefully do it for a living one day.”