AHL referees take an inordinate amount of abuse from players, coaches and fans, some of it justified and some of it mere griping. But catch a player or coach on a generous day, and that individual is more likely than not apt to grant referees their fair due.
But the best kind of approval that a referee can receive is praise from his superiors, even better when it is in the tangible form of a promotion.
Referees Gord Dwyer, a Halifax-area native, and Dolbeau, Que. product Justin St. Pierre will not be kicking around the AHL any more, both having been hired by the NHL as full-time referees for the 2006-07 season.
Replacing Dwyer and St. Pierre in the AHL on full-time NHL/AHL contracts are Frederick L'Ecuyer, who hails from Trois-Rivieres, Que. and Chris Ciamaga, a native of the Buffalo area.
Ciamaga may as well already have had a full-time deal, as he was a regular last year in the AHL and did a solid job. L'Ecuyer has been seen a bit around the AHL, but the bulk of his pro work has been in the Central Hockey League.
Known as a good on-ice communicator with players and coaches, the 29-year-old Dwyer's progress has been quick, relatively speaking. Hired by the QMJHL as a linesman in 1999, Dwyer reached the Central League as a referee by 2001. Dwyer, known by some as the referee who presided over the infamous Binghamton-Philadelphia game in December 2003 that featured 373 penalty minutes (a reflection more on the muscle on those teams than on Dwyer's abilities), is in the NHL full-time after two years in the Central League and three more full seasons in the AHL.
The road to the NHL for St. Pierre, 34, has been much longer. St. Pierre did a tour in the ECHL and worked three finals in that league before moving on to the AHL.
All in all, the NHL is a long way from the world of minor hockey where many a future NHL officiating career is born, and the path is long.
As with Wes McCauley and Dan O'Rourke who moved up from the AHL a season earlier, Dwyer and St. Pierre are part of a small group that manages to wind its way through minor pro to the NHL. As much of a grind as life as an NHL official can be, it takes a tremendous amount of dedication to make it as an AHL referee, never mind to position oneself for an NHL promotion.
Three-in-three weekends are the norm, and unlike players, referees are not able to kick back on the team bus afterward. Instead, it is hop into the car and drive to the next city for a game the next night.
Consider this weekend for AHL referee Francois St. Laurent from April 7-9 of last season. On Friday, April 8, St. Laurent worked a game at Syracuse. From there, he headed 241 kilometres south to Pennsylvania for a 7 p.m. game at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. The next day, St. Laurent had a game 605 kilometres away in Toronto, a 5 p.m. tilt at Ricoh Coliseum.
Whether one makes that long drive to Toronto or opts to fly out of the New York City area or Philadelphia, that weekend is a particularly grueling but not all that untypical weekend that featured three games in less than 48 hours and a whole lot of travel. Considering the amount of skating that a referee must do in a typical game and given the travel burden, being in fantastic physical condition is an absolute must.
Along with the travel and schedule, throw in the winter weather (lake-effect snow in Syracuse at 2 a.m., let's say) that is the norm across most of the AHL, the abuse and time spent away from family, friends and significant others, and this not a career path well-suited for most people. Many an official is not able to make the cut and/or not able to handle the lifestyle and fades out of the AHL.
The Providence Bruins have new ownership in place. Replacing Frank DuRoss is H. Larue Renfroe, a business figure with ties to Rhode Island and Massachusetts. The Providence Journal reported on Saturday that the sale price was approximately $3.5 million US.
The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins and Chicago Wolves both have new assistant coaches. The Wolves added long-time AHLer Todd Nelson, who arrives after three seasons in the UHL with Muskegon. Nelson won two Colonial Cups while with Muskegon. Prior to his UHL run, Nelson won a Calder Cup as a player in 1994 and spent the 2002-03 season in Grand Rapids as an assistant on then-head coach Danton Cole's staff.
The Penguins added Dan Bylsma, who spent last season in the NHL with the New York Islanders. Bylsma definitely has something of an intellectual side to him, having written four books with his father, Jay. Bylsma also runs his own hockey camp.
Speaking of the Penguins, former Syracuse goalie Andrew Penner is moving over to the Penguins and will likely serve as the back-up to incumbent Dany Sabourin.
The San Antonio Rampage, the Phoenix Coyotes' AHL affiliate, continues to strengthen themselves. Literally, in this case, as they got Ryan Flinn's signature on an AHL contract this past week. Flinn, all 6-5 and 248 pounds of him, is a 26-year-old from Halifax who divided his grossly abbreviated 2005-06 between the Los Angeles Kings and their AHL affiliate, the Manchester Monarchs. A concussion limited Flinn to just eight games between the Kings and Monarchs.
Another drastically improved team, the Albany River Rats, signed up Providence defenceman Chris Dyment. A dependable AHL-level defender, Dyment endured a trying 2005-06 season. A New Year's Eve incident at a Providence bar in which Dyment was the unfortunate and innocent recipient of a beer bottle to his left eye brought Dyment's season to a halt. Given the nature of the injury, the chances of Dyment's career resuming were anything but certain. After a lengthy recovery period, Dyment returned to the Bruins' line-up in March. Dyment's addition in Albany further strengthens what is looking to be a good group on the River Rats' blue line.
Former Hershey head coach Paul Fixter, most recently a scout with the Colorado Avalanche, is heading back to the coaching ranks. Fixter is off to the Central League after landing the head-coaching job with the Rio Grande Valley Killer Bees.
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