Ceko officiating in the OMHA
For hockey fans, one of the holiday’s most celebrated traditions is the annual World Juniors tournament. Families sit together and cheer on Canada’s best young hockey players as they look to be crowned the best in the world once again.
While this year’s edition may feel a bit different, there is still the hard work that goes on behind the scenes to make it happen. This of course include the on-ice officiating crew, typically chosen from around the world to be the unofficial third team at the rink.
Two OMHA officials, Matt Mannella and Matt Ceko, were named by the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) and Hockey Canada as part of the all-Canadian lineup due to the unique circumstances surrounding this year. The duo are familiar with each other from common officiating circles in the province and have similar paths to this moment.
Mannella grew up playing with Niagara Falls and Welland Minor Hockey and won RedHats. As his days in minor hockey winded down, Mannella started refereeing at 14 as a way to make some money. He began by taking a Level 1 clinic in Pelham, participating in Referee School and quickly fell in love with his new role.
Mannella officiating in the AHL
“I knew I really enjoyed doing it when I had no problem getting up at 7 in the morning to work an 8 am Novice house league game on a Saturday,” said Mannella. “I knew I was passionate about it because I always wanted to go to the rink for my next game and improve.”
“That’s when I thought I should maybe take officiating more seriously.”
Ceko’s journey has a familiar tune. Like Mannella, he played minor hockey in the OMHA and decided to become an on-ice official. Between the OHA, OHL and AHL, the two have been knocking down the doors as they move up the officiating ladder. After previous experience with officiating international events, one of the next steps was the World Juniors.
“It was exhilarating. It was a great feeling. When I got the call for the World Juniors, I was really happy,” said Ceko. “I knew that my hard work paid off but I also knew that it’s not done here and there’s a next level to climb here and that’s to make it to the NHL.”
“I had no idea it was coming. At first, I was kind of shocked, it was a real surreal feeling. The heart’s kind of pumping a bit, super excited and nervous,” said Mannella. “The same sort of stuff I felt working the next level of hockey I ever did.”
Mannella still remembers how excited and nervous he was to referee his first U13 game with fans. He’s been able to learn and grow from each experience.
“My best advice would be to be confident. Not only in yourself but in your rule knowledge. If you’re getting things right out there and you’re confident in the game that your calling, then that parent that’s yelling isn’t going to bother you.”
The tournament, set for puck drop on Christmas Day, has Team Canada looking to defend it’s gold medal. The team features four OMHA alumni on the roster – Quinton Byfield, Connor McMichael, Alex Newhook and Cole Perfetti.
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