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Former Victoria Cougar Knorr quickly climbing NHL referee ladder

Most referees start out as players, so they have some club teams to thank for their skating skills.

Most referees start out as players, so they have some club teams to thank for their skating skills.

For Trent Knorr — who made his NHL refereeing debut earlier this month when the Toronto Maple Leafs played in Minnesota against the Wild — that team is the Victoria Cougars of the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League.

Knorr will repay that debt to the team he once captained by dropping the ceremonial first puck tonight at 7 p.m. at Archie Browning Sports Centre before the league-leading and B.C. No. 2-rated Cougars’ game against the Kerry Park Islanders.

He’ll be a lot more calm than he was on Nov. 13 at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn.

“It was pretty nerve-wracking to see Dion Phaneuf and Danny Heatley skate out there. It was surreal . . . that’s the only way to describe it,” said Knorr of his NHL debut, which took place with his parents, wife Miesha and three best friends in attendance.

“It took me five or six minutes to get over the butterflies. The speed at which the puck moves in the NHL is incredible. It’s quite an adjustment [from working the minor-pro ranks] to track the play and react to NHL speed. Quite a few players congratulated me after the game, which was nice.”

The meteoric Knorr is only 27 but has worked his way up from the WHL, ECHL and AHL to the NHL and looks to be the heir-apparent to carry on the tradition of Island NHL officials such as Lloyd Gilmour of Nanaimo, Rob Shick of Port Alberni and Lonnie Cameron and Malcolm Ashford of Victoria.

Knorr was only 18 when he lined his first pro ECHL game at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre and one of the players leaned over and said: “You look about as old as my son.”

Now one of nine AHL referees contracted to be called up this season to the Show, Knorr will referee his second NHL game Dec. 18 when the Ottawa Senators visit the New Jersey Devils.

And he has to thank for it that decision at age 16 to come down from Powell River to play for the Cougars, a team with which he starred on the blue-line with 127 points in 172 games. Knorr also amassed 890 penalty minutes, which no doubt gives him some insider insight as a referee.

“It’s super cool to be coming back to drop a ceremonial first puck,” said Victoria-based Knorr, who will officiate AHL games in Abbotsford on Friday and Saturday when the Canucks farm team, Utica Comets, are in the Fraser Valley.

Archie Browning is also the rink where Knorr was first scouted refereeing a Midget game by legendary retired NHL referee Bryan Lewis, then director of referees for the ECHL, who was on the Island for a Salmon Kings game.

Knorr gives back to his playing roots by helping supervise officials in Island Junior B games. But his eyes are on the big prize.

“I’d like to say there is a timetable [to becoming a permanent NHL referee] but nothing is guaranteed and it all depends on a number of factors like how I am progressing and how many guys are retiring,” he said.

Indications are this Cougar alumnus will be whistling penalties in the NHL sooner rather than later.