AYHA Player/Referee Meets NHL Officials!, News (Athens Youth Hockey Association | Athens Ohio | Bird Arena)

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Mar 31, 2024 | Mike McAvoy | 35 views
AYHA Player/Referee Meets NHL Officials!
For the 2024 Hockey Week Across America celebration, USA Hockey and American NHL clubs invited youth hockey officiating associations to select up-and-coming referees to meet NHL officials.  The Central Ohio Youth Ice Hockey Officiating Association selected AYHA player/referee, Sean McAvoy, as one of two youth hockey referees to meet NHL officials before a Blue Jackets game! Sean’s selection not only reflects his officiating efforts in Columbus, but also highlights the importance AYHA’s home-grown referees have in youth hockey in Athens.

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At the February 25th game where the New York Rangers visited the Columbus Blue Jackets, Sean and another 614 Ice Refs youth referee were able to meet and spend time with the NHL officials, asking questions and getting the perspective of what path each of them took to become professional referees.  Afterwards, Sean was able to join in for the pregame meeting with the officials, skate out with them at the start of the game, and be on the ice with both teams for the National Anthem.  Congratulations to Sean for the hard work and effort to be recognized by the COYICHOA and the Columbus Blue Jackets!

Unfortunately, across the United States and Canada there is a pervasive shortage of youth sports officials.  Even prior to the Covid lockdowns, the National Federation of State High School Sports reported an estimated 50,000 high school referees quit between 2018 and 2021 in part due to unruly parents and coaches.  After the lockdowns, many more officials simply did not return.  Combined with the growing popularity of youth hockey, there have been weekends over the past several seasons where youth hockey games in the Columbus area are simply cancelled due to the lack of referees. The AYHA has not been isolated from the referee shortage, as there are usually very few youth hockey officials in southeast Ohio, and referees in Columbus have no need to travel to Athens to pick up all the games they want.

In response to the shortage, in 2022 the AYHA started its own home-grown effort to train youth hockey players as on-ice officials to take the pressure off the small pool of existing local referees.  Consulting with youth hockey officiating associations in Columbus and West Virginia, the AYHA developed a program not only to recruit and train current and former AYHA players to officiate home games at Bird Ice Arena, but also to identify Ohio University students with hockey backgrounds who can participate as well. 

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As a result of these efforts, the AYHA now has over 15 active and former youth players and OU college students who are USA Hockey trained on-ice officials, and the Association has not had to cancel any games over the past two years.  For the 2023-2024 season, there were 88 games youth games at Bird Ice Arena that AYHA’s home-grown youth referees officiated, allowing the Association’s adult referees to dedicate more of their limited time to focus on high school games.

The AYHA is extremely grateful and proud of our youth officials and the important role they serve to ensure hockey can thrive in southeast Ohio.  Our hope is that with more support and training, these young boys and girls will continue to grow into the role of on-ice referees and reach higher levels of officiating in Athens for years to come.

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