Stars And (Zebra) Stripes

Anyone involved in college hockey will tell you that one of the most thankless jobs in the sport is that of referee. A constant target for not-so-kind words from players, coaches and spectators alike, officials are considered most successful when nobody notices their existence.

Add to that as much a four-hour round trip to work and, simply put, the job doesn’t really seem to have much glamour.

But a passion for the game can supersede the tedious.

Take Scott Hansen. Known universally as “Scotty,” the always-smiling 34-year-old has been lacing up the skates as an official longer than most of the players in his games have been alive.

His passion for the game has seen him succeed at just about every level of the game. The six-year veteran of the ECAC and three-year member of Hockey East’s officiating crew now has a chance to further his officiating horizons.

Even though four years ago the International Olympic Committee voted to allow professional athletes, virtually eliminating the amateurs once a staple of Olympic hockey, Hansen’s Olympic dream has come alive: he is among the 2002 Men’s Ice Hockey officiating crew.

Potentially the greatest honor he will have bestowed upon him in his officiating career, Hansen left earlier this week to join eight other referees from around the world — and around the NHL — at the games in Salt Lake City.

An Early Beginning

Hansen began officiating about as early in life as you possibly can: at age 11.

“I was playing youth hockey and my father said it was a good way to learn the game,” said Hansen. “I found that I enjoyed it quite a bit. It had nothing to do with the power part of it, but simply being on the ice. It gained me an extra two or three hours of ice time a week.”

Beginning like most referees, at the mite level, Hansen worked his way up quickly. By age 14, not only did Hansen enjoy officiating but he also enjoyed the added benefit — money.

“When I was 14 or 15 it started to pay,” laughed Hansen. “I could go down on Saturday and do four games, and Sunday and do four games and I’d leave with $40 in my pocket. I had everything. If I wanted a new boom box, I went and bought a boom box. If I wanted new sneakers, I went and bought new sneakers because I had the money.”

During his high school years, Hansen stayed relegated to youth hockey. Shortly after graduating, though, came the promotion to the high school game.

Luckily for Hansen, at that point, he had become a skilled official. And within a short amount of time, professional hockey came calling.

Having grown up in Southern Connecticut, Hansen was familiar with minor league hockey in the form of the American Hockey League. The New Haven Nighthawks were a long-established franchise in one of the NHL’s top developmental leagues.

Living in the area, he was fortunate to get an early call to the pros.

“When I was 19, I joined the American Hockey League as a linesman,” said Hansen. “I didn’t do a lot of games because I was young, but I did enough just to get the feel of it and the sense that I could do it.”

That sense carried Hansen to another level.

An offer would come a few years later to head to the East Coast Hockey League as a referee — one that Hansen couldn’t refuse. Bags packed, Hansen moved to Tennessee.

By then, refereeing itself had become a passion. Mature beyond his years, night in and night out he dealt with the attitudes of professional coaches and players. He dealt with the fighting in one of the most violent pro leagues in the country. Still young, Hansen was able to control the game, something recognized by those above him.

At age 26, Hansen was selected by the National Hockey League to join their referee development program. What started out as a way to earn a few bucks and get some ice time had escalated far beyond.

“Once I got picked up by the NHL [for the development program], I was able to work in every minor league and Canadian juniors,” Hansen said. “At the end, I had at least refereed one game in every professional or junior league there was.”

But with the glory of the NHL, came the aggravation of a full-time job. What once was a pleasure had become a daily grind.

“Once I got with the NHL, it was every Wednesday on a plane and every Sunday coming home,” Hansen said. “I’d do my laundry and be home with my girlfriend and be back out on the road.

“Then I got married at it was home to my wife and then back on the road. The glamour wore off real quick. It was like a businessman who had to travel all the time. Sure we had our summers off, but summer got shorter.”

As tough as the travel may have been, officiating was still what Hansen wanted to do. Once the puck dropped, there was nothing in the world that compared.

“On the ice was still easy,” said Hansen. “The hard part was the travel, the paperwork, the conference calls. It was dealing with supervisors who had different personalities. The passion was still there for being on the ice. It was just the little things that made it tough.”

Unfortunately, those little things went away — and not because life suddenly got easy at the pro level.

“They cleaned out house at the development program,” said Hansen. He and eight other officials were laid off. “They had no movement up in the NHL [in terms of open positions] so there was no sense in keeping older referees in the development program. So they got rid of us and brought in some young guys.”

At that point, with nearly 17 years of officiating under his belt, the outside world was heading Hansen’s way. A day job would be his first step to reality, now supporting himself and his wife Christina. Even Hansen’s social life began to suffer.

“The tough part about being with the NHL was that when I got released I realized all my friends were in hockey,” admitted Hansen. “Everybody I associated with was in the hockey world. So not only was my professional life crashing, but my personal life was too.”

That in mind, officiating wouldn’t fall from Hansen’s radar screen.

In 1996, he joined the ECAC, working games at the Division I, II and III levels. After three years with the league, Hansen started doing game in Hockey East in addition to his duties in the ECAC.

“[Scott] wrote me a letter and said he wanted to do some Hockey East games,” said Brendan Sheehy, supervisor of officials for Hockey East. “I did some inquiring and found out he was one of the top officials [in the ECAC].”

That was 1999. Today, Hansen is one of the top-ranked officials in Hockey East, as evidenced by his selection for the ECAC, Hockey East and NCAA tournament. He worked last Monday in the highest-profile regular-season tournament of the year — the Beanpot — officiating the nightcap in the semifinals, between Boston College and Boston University.

Success Around The Globe

As Hansen has made the most of his success in his home territory, so too has he been feted on the international circuit. Hansen was selected in 1997, 1998 and 2000 to referee the World Junior championships. His first trip found him in the bronze-medal game. His last two brought the top reward: working the gold-medal tilt.

Hansen was also selected for the 1997 European championships, as well as the Far East and World Senior championships in 1999.

“I’ve been fortunate to travel all over the world. It’s like taking a paid vacation,” said Hansen. “Not a lot of people can say they’ve been to Russia, and I was there for five weeks in the last year.”

With Hansen’s move to the international game, the passion has strengthened. It’s not the youth hockey cakewalk of years back, but the day is more enjoyable for this referee.

“There’s politics involved, and all sorts of things outside of the ice surface,” said Hansen. “But they’re things you know up front and you deal with them.”

The Call To Salt Lake

With the Olympic Games on U.S. soil, Hansen’s involvement with USA Hockey and the international game served him well. When calls were made for officials late last summer, Hansen was one of the American nominees.

"For me, it’s a culmination of a lot of hard work that I’ve put in to really perfect my international officiating — to do the job they want."

— Scott Hansen, on his selection to officiate the Olympic hockey tournament.

He is part of a crew of six referees and ten linesmen for the early rounds of Olympic competition. After qualifying play is complete, three referees and six linesmen will head home. The remainder will be joined by officials from the National Hockey League.

“For me, it’s a culmination of a lot of hard work that I’ve put in to really perfect my international officiating — to do the job they want,” said Hansen.

He admitted, though, that his membership among the top officials in the entire world had not yet sunk in.

“Once I get there and we go to the opening ceremonies and get to sit in the stadium, then it’s really going to hit that this is the freaking Olympics,” Hansen said with a smile. “With the NHL players going to be there, this is the biggest tournament in the world. It’s bigger than the Stanley Cup. It’s the greatest teams from each country picked to go at it. You’re not going to be able to get better than that. After that everything is going to be anticlimatic.”

In a year when American pride has been displayed worldwide, from homes and schools to the Super Bowl, Hansen is proud to be able to represent the USA.

“It’s absolutely national pride to represent your own country,” said Hansen. “The pride for us comes when we find out who is selected to referee what games once we are there.

“If you’re American and you get a big game, that’s a feather in the cap for all the officials in the United States — all the people who are coming through the system and all the people who nominated me there.

“Everyone in the USA Hockey program — they’re the ones who are responsible for developing me so that I could … get to the Olympics.”

Walking onto the international stage in this just-once-every-four-years event allows Hansen to further build his experience — as he does every time he makes a three-hour ride each way to a college game.

Sheehy likened Hansen’s development to that of a golfer.

“Tiger Woods hits a lot of balls,” said Sheehy. “The more balls you hit, the better you’re going to get. And Scotty spends a lot of night going to the rink. His experience is tremendous to his development.”

At this rate, Hansen certainly has the ability to become the Tiger Woods of college hockey officials.