YOUNG HOCKEY officials get pushed through the paces of skating drills in the Kozari Officiating School at Memorial Arena.

YOUNG HOCKEY officials get pushed through the paces of skating drills in the Kozari Officiating School at Memorial Arena.

Referees honing their craft at zebra school in Penticton

Officials hoping to take their career to next level with NHL-level instruction

Nick Albinati and Jake Stubbs are developing into better hockey officials than they were players.

“I was a horrible hockey player,” said Albinati, a Prince George product.

Stubbs also admits he wasn’t a great player in Vancouver as a left-handed right winger.

Both are in Steve Kozari’s Officiating School, which started Sunday at Memorial Arena and wraps up on Friday.

“I love the game of hockey and I wanted to continue it as long as I could,” said Albinati, a six-foot-three, 170 pound linesman, who looks up to Kozari and if he could, would pick the brain of NHL linesman Jay Sharrers over dinner.

Last season the 19-year-old worked Games 2 and 5 of the BCHL Mainland Division playoffs between the Prince George Spruce Kings and Coquitlam Express.

“It was an unreal experience,” said Albinati, of witnessing the playoff intensity. “There’s no words for it really.”

Albinati, who will study computer network technology at the College of New Caledonia, is back for his sixth year at the officiating school and keeps coming back because he learns something every time. He also gets something else.

“A lot of it is exposure,” said Albinati, who is driven to improve and move up.

The officiating school has the WHL’s officiating supervisor watching as well as NHL linesman Brad Lazarowich, who is the BCHL’s associate director of officiating.

Stubbs, also 19, put on the striped jersey for the first time at age 14. He also wanted to stay in the game and make extra money. His progression started with earning his first provincial assignment three years ago, then last season worked  the Pacific Junior Hockey League. Working games in the PIJHL was a great experience, especially with only five games in the B.C. Major Midget League the season before under his belt.

Below in photo, Nick Albinati with Steve Kozari and Jake Stubbs.

“It was a lot of learning on the fly,” said Stubbs of making the jump. “Flying by the seat of your pants.”

Stubbs, a kinesiology student at UBC, loves the instruction he gets at the Kozari Officiating School.

“I take away so much from Kyle’s (Rehman, an NHL referee) teaching,” he said. “He’s not only a really fantastic skater, but he’s an incredible teacher as well.”

Stubbs, in his fifth year at the school, likes to see how he progresses year-to-year and break down his skills. He is also determined to show the evaluators that he takes the initiative to improve.

“It’s all about constructive criticism,” said Stubbs. “There’s no point in spending a $1,000 ($549 for the camp) to come up here for a week and get babied through and say, ‘Hey, you did a great job.’ I want all the criticism I can get.

“If you are gong to fall anywhere, this is the place to fall,” continued Stubbs, who likes being in high pressure situations.

Kozari said Albinati has a shot to work in the WHL in the future. Kozari described Albinati as a linesman with size and speed, who also brings a positive attitude and good awareness away from the play and during the stoppages.

“He knows the areas to go in to put out a fire,” said Kozari. “He sees the whole game well.”

Stubbs is a referee with all the tools, said Kozari, and also possesses a great attitude.

“He’s coachable, has good hockey IQ,” he said. “He is ready for the next level. He’s working junior B already.”

Albinati and Stubbs are among 30 officials from B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and three from Chicago attending. Branton Grinde is the lone local.

“We have got some great young talent here,” said Kozari, adding that the ages range from 16 to 24. They are learning each and everyday. They are progressing, which is what we want.”

The officials are evaluated while they work games for Okanagan Hockey School showcase tournaments.

They are put through power skating sessions, go over video and have lectures midday.

“We never had this when we were younger,” said Kozari. “We would sit in the classroom for eight hours, go through a rule book, ask questions about certain situations. They get critiqued after each game.”