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NHL Stripes: Derek Amel

By Ontario Minor Hockey Association, 08/07/14, 9:30AM EDT


NHL Linesmen, Derek Amel looks back at his OMHA Roots and what it’s like to work with the best in the business

How did you get into refereeing?

I think I was 21, I was in my second year at Durham College taking Chemical Engineering Technology and delivering pizzas at night and basically not going out with any of my friends.

I use to play hockey with the referee assigners son. After running into him, he said his dad was looking for referees so I went and talked to him about what I needed to do. I went to a clinic, got certified and was assigned to Novice out of Harman Arena and went from there.

How did you make it to the OHL?

I worked one year in the OMHA and the next year I got hired by the Ontario Hockey Association (OHA) so I was lining lots of Junior C hockey, Junior B hockey so I did that for two years.

For me, it happened rather quickly, after my first year as an official with the OMHA I got hired by the Ontario Hockey Association (OHA) to do Junior C and Junior B hockey. After two seasons of doing both OMHA and OHA officiating, I was invited by the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) to come down to Guelph and do a tryout.

In my fourth year with the OHL, the American Hockey League (AHL) came to Hamilton so they grabbed six linesmen out of the Southern Ontario area and I was lucky enough to get that call.

That year I did the OHL finals and I also got the chance to do the Calder Cup final my first year in the American League.

The following summer, Bryan Lewis from the National Hockey League called me and offered me a job as a 40/40 linesmen which meant I would do half the games in the American League and half the games in the National Hockey League.

I quit my job at General Motors as a Safety Specialist in Scarborough at the Van plant and then when that closed down in '93 I got hired by the Lier Corporation out of Whitby. I was their Space Safety Manger.

Differences between AHL and OHL

The biggest difference between the AHL and OHL is dealing with professional hockey players that do it for a living. From the AHL to the NHL the biggest step obviously is the increase in pressure.

The hockey is better and everything is on the tape in the NHL which makes it easier sometimes to officiate the games but when something happens, the media gets involved, the pressure.

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Describe a Typical game day

The four guys officiating the game will all meet in the city of the game for lunch. It is a great time for us to talk about the game that night and discuss stuff that happened the night before. If anyone has recently officiated either team, that person usually sheds some light on tendencies. I might not work with some of these guys more than once or twice a year since we are on our own schedules so it is always good to catch up.

After lunch, I will check in to the hotel, call my wife to see how everything went with the kids. I then lay down for an hour and a half to two hours for a little pre game nap. When I wake up, I usually relax for another hour or so to prepare for the game then I meet up with the rest of the officiating crew and head over to the arena together.

We get to the rink at least an hour before the game to get ready. We go over tendencies again and getting prepared for the night ahead. After the game we usually go back to the hotel for dinner and call it a night around 12:00 - 12:30. Some of the crew will usually be out on an 8:00am flight for their next game so they will be up and out the door 5:30.

Challenges with a quick sport

2014 is a lot different than when I started in 1997 that's for sure!

The scrutiny is unbelievable. The average fan doesnt realize it but with replay, sports documentaries, social media and over 20 cameras in an arena on a given night, everything is magnified.  All these things are great for the game but as an official and for our job it has made it a lot more difficult. Fans sometimes overlook the fact  that we see the game at one speed and we only get one chance to make the right call.

What Conditioning is required

This day in age as linesmen you better be over 6'2 and 210 lbs to start because the players are so much bigger, it has made it a necessity for larger officials.  Personally, I run 5 miles every single morning in the off season and workout with weights. I focus on core strength and cardio as I get older. A lot of the younger guys I work with do a lot of weigh lifting as well.

It's a full time job to stay in shape to prepare for the season. The league expects all officials to be in top form and they do fitness testing.

What's Referee travel life like compared to a players?

It's a lot of hotels, airports and hockey arenas, entering through the basement. It's a full time job, 100 000 miles in nine months and 170 hotel nights in a season. You are basically gone 22 days a month.

We are doing three times the amount of travel as NHL teams and no home series. They play half their games at home and the average referee might do six games in their hometown a year.

It’s really demanding, we use commercial flights, not chartered flights like teams. It took my a while but I figured out how to travel efficiently and how to take care of my body while on the road, and rest at night. That's what usually burns out guys in this business, more than anything else is the travel

Best part of the job?

It use to be the travel for me but after seventeen years as an offiicial, that is a bit past me. I have been to every NHL city a handful of times.

Now for me, being on the ice is just so rewarding to be 45 years old and be skating along side guys like Sidney Crosby and Steven Stamkos. Working and thinking about hockey all day is a tremendous honour and still a passion for me.

Stanley Cup Finals versus regular season

Night and day, no comparison. Even from the third round to the cup finals, it is a big step. I did three 3rd rounds before I was asked to do the finals and I was like "I'm ready to do it" but after my first or second time through a third round,  I wasn't ready. I was blown away when I did my first cup game with the media focus.  The commitment and travel involved was much higher. We went from New Jersey to Los Angelas in 2012 every four days. Back and forth across the country for two weeks was very mentally and physically tough.

Opinion on Sochi?

It was way better than I thought it was going to be. It was unbelievable how nice and accommodating the Russian people were to us. They were very kind and generous to us and our accommodations were spectacular. The whole experience was just pronominal. The guys were great to work with, there was very much a sense of a team atmosphere within the group of officials. The food was just OK, that might be the only negative thing I have to say about the entire experience but different countries have different tastes so it sometimes expected.

Favourite game moment?

It will probably be the gold medal game when I look back on my career. It will probably go down as the biggest game I will get to work.

Making my first Stanley Cup Final game is my proudest moment because I know how good the NHL staff is so it's an achievement to be recognized with an assignment of that caliber. 

Favourite arena?

Montreal on a Saturday night doesn't get much better. The atmosphere, the fans, Saturday night in Montreal. Theres a buzz at the hotel, theres a buzz at the restaurant we eat at, it's hockey you know. Toronto is fun too but I find it a lot more corporate and I still find Montreal loves hockey.

I also enjoy going to Chicago a lot, it's a fun building to work in now.

why #75?

There's no real reason behind it, when I got hired Brian Lewis asked me what number I wanted, my wife said 75 sounds good so I have been wearing it my whole career.

What advice can you give to a young official?

At the end of the day I started officiating hockey to get back into the game. It wasn't about the money, it was about getting back into the game since I wasn't playing any more. I love hockey, it's a passion and if you don't have that passion for the game you won't have fun in this position.

The relationships you build through the sport will last a lifetime. It is a humbling sport that takes a lot of time so the poeple that do get involved be it parents, coaches, officials....

Work Hockey games! I never remember ever turning down an assignment but I worked every single night for years on end with a full time job. You get better with practice, it's like an apprenticeship.

Its a game of mistakes, for players, coaches and officials. The more you work the more your going to minimize your mistakes. There is never a bad hockey game to train your skills, weather it is a Peewee house league game or a Midget AAA game, they all can teach valuable skills that can applied to all areas of the game and life.

The NHL is not the be all and end all for officiating. There are tons of people that have tons of success through amateur sport. I worked the Olympics with half of the guys who are amateurs, they don't do this full time. There's also university and college and minor hockey games out there. The opportunities are awesome.