‘The game can’t happen without you’: Steamboat’s Connor Glynn makes his way through the refereeing ranks
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The greatest achievement for any hockey player is to make it to the professional level, preferably, the National Hockey League.
Steamboat Springs High School graduate Connor Glynn hopes to make it to the NHL, but when he gets there, he won’t be wearing pads and carrying a stick. Instead, he’ll be wearing a black-and-white striped shirt and holding a whistle.
It will take him a lot of skill, exposure and luck to get to that stage, but he’s well on his way.
“I’d like to go to the NHL. Is that realistic? Who knows?” Glynn said. “I guess I’m just gonna take it step by step — see how far I can go with being an official.”
Oddly enough, becoming an NHL referee is similar to becoming an NHL player — you have to appear in big games and get noticed by the right people.
Though he’s living in Steamboat at the moment, Glynn, 23, has traveled to Denver nearly every weekend to be an official at Tier I AAA hockey games. In early December, he traveled to Gillette, Wyoming, to officiate a Tier III junior game. Of course, he’ll also spend a weekend picking up youth hockey games to make some money.
“Some weeks, I’ll be doing 15 to 18 games over four to five days,” he said. “It’s not really a weekend gig anymore. It’s almost a full-time thing.”
Just a few years removed from playing in the Colorado High School Athletic Association hockey playoffs, Glynn officiated the Colorado High School Final Four at the Pepsi Center, the warmest rink he’s ever worked in.
Through his years of officiating, Glynn, a 2014 Steamboat High graduate, has had a little luck. He attended a camp in Pittsburgh a couple years ago and met the director of USA Hockey’s Officials Development Program.
“Then, I got unlucky because, by the time the next season rolled around, he was no longer with them,” Glynn said. “All that exposure and that big step was kind of for nothing.”
Glynn is now part of the development program and has attended multiple camps to improve his skills and hopefully get noticed by someone who can advance his career — a career that started 11 years ago.
A different perspective
Glynn began officiating when he was 12, watching over U8 and U10 games. He couldn’t ref a game with kids his own age, so the older he got, the more age groups he could preside over.
The job started as a means to make some extra money, but it turned into a way to continue being a part of the sport that he thinks is the best in the world.
“You’re allowing the sport to continue, and you’re allowing the players to play,” Glynn said. “You’re never really the focus of the game, but the game can’t happen without you.”
His time on the ice goes back even further, though, when he started playing hockey at age 3. From the very beginning of his hockey career, Glynn had a slightly different view of the game.
“I played goalie. I think that’s actually helped my refereeing experience or refereeing career,” Glynn said. “I’m used to seeing the game from a different angle than 90% of the other hockey players in the world. I’m used to seeing the entire game develop. From a goaltender’s perspective, you see the entire game develop from your crease.”
Despite being able to see the game well as a referee, Glynn said hockey is a difficult sport to call, since there’s so much gray area. For example, if someone takes a cross check but doesn’t lose possession of the puck, Glynn won’t make the call. However, if a cross check sends someone into the boards, that’s a clear call.
“You’re just trying to make that judgment call of how it affected the game at the moment and how it’ll affect the rest of the game,” he said.
Glynn said one of the worst parts of calling a game is seeing a bad hit coming, which mostly happens when officiating games between younger players. He’ll see someone skating right for the puck holder and know someone is going to get hit in the back.
“That’s the worst part of it for me, knowing it’s gonna happen, and you can’t stop it,” he said. “You have to let it happen, and then you can call the penalty. You can’t prevent something.”
‘We are actually human beings’
There is actually one aspect of officiating that is worse. When Glynn and his co-workers take to the ice in their black-and-white stripes, they are the targets and the scapegoats for all frustration and shortcomings.
Players, coaches and, of course, parents and fans, almost always end up yelling at the ref for something. By the end of the game, officials are usually the most hated people in the building.
“We are actually human beings. We also have bad days,” Glynn said. “Something my dad told me, it’s the only job you’re expected to start perfect and get better.”
Glynn thinks the verbal abuse is one of the reasons the sport, along with many others, is experiencing a referee shortage. Sure, Glynn stuck with it despite being yelled at as a little kid, but most 13-year-old officials will probably turn away from the job after spending a Saturday getting blamed for why an 11-year-old player is sent to the penalty box. Glynn said it too often goes way over the top.
“People need to step back and take into context what league they’re playing in. Maybe we did miss something, but this isn’t the NHL. You’ll be fine,” Glynn said. “There’s not really anything officials or the officials association can do about people being people. … It’s more on us. You have to be professional about it, telling this person they’re wrong. Maybe even if you’re right, you’re not allowed to tell me I’m wrong in that way.”
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