Ex-ref looks at Olympic hockey from a different perspective

The focus, as it should be, is on the athletes when media cover the Olympics. That means superlatives are exhausted in describing the exploits of the performers — which have numbered 50 from the Island over the last two Olympics with 48 at the 2012 London Summer Games and two at the 2014 Sochi Winter Games.

But without the people behind the scenes, the events couldn’t run and athletes couldn’t do what they do. Among those you will never see in front of the TV cameras is Ken Wheler of Victoria, a game supervisor and evaluator of officials for the Sochi Winter Olympics.

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But if this is what you do, it’s no less a thrill to be selected for the Olympics as an official than it is for an athlete to make the team.

“It’s absolutely exciting,” said Wheler, employed by the NHL as director of development for referees and linesmen in the minor pro leagues such as the AHL and ECHL.

“It took me less than one minute to think about it [the offer to work the Olympics] and say OK.”

Wheler, a former referee, had taken some time away from hockey. During parts of his 23 years in Victoria, he has worked as the service manager for car dealerships all over the city.

But the tug of Canada’s favourite sport was too much to resist. It’s now Wheler’s job to evaluate and make sure officials are prepared when they make the jump to the NHL. So what better person to be supervisor for the Olympic hockey games in Sochi? Wheler is adjudicating officials’ performances in Sochi, and based on that, nominating the officials who will work upcoming games. Among the officials working the Sochi Games is NHL linesman Lonnie Cameron of Victoria. Wheler, the father of two Victoria teens, is on the road for more than 100 days a year in minor-league pro rinks in cities and towns all across North America. In some ways, Sochi is just another, albeit longer and more glamorous, road trip. But it’s also a career highlight that happens only rarely. Unlike an athlete, Wheler can’t call himself an Olympian. Yet, he can certainly describe reaching Sochi as an Olympian achievement.

So what makes a proficient hockey referee or linesman?

“You look for a good person and a good communicator,” said Wheler.

“You see whether a person can take charge in a situation where others are losing control. Not everybody who is identified [as a potential NHL official], makes it. Just as with players, there are late bloomers who come along. It’s rewarding to be a part of that development process.”

And sometimes it can take you to Olympian heights.

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com

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