Cody Huseby is one such person, working the lines here in Edmonton for the first time at the top level. He follows in the footsteps of his twin brother, Chad, who officiated seven games at the 2020 World Juniors, including the bronze medal game.
“It’s a matter of working your way up through the ranks,” Cody explained of how he got here. “I’ve been working in the Western Hockey League as a linesman. Through that, I was able to go to my first IIHF tournament, which was Estonia, Division II-B in 2018. That was the first time I’d been to Europe. I just continued to work in the WHL after that and was fortunate enough to get selected to work the tournament at Christmas and then re-selected to come here.”
But like any official, Huseby started as a player when he was a kid, and after realizing the NHL wasn’t likely to happen he gravitated towards the black and white stripes instead.
“I grew up in Rocky Mountain House, just west of Red Deer, Alberta,” he continued. “I played minor hockey in Rocky, and then I decided once I was done playing midget that I had to choose to play junior or college, so I chose college. That’s when I started reffing more in and around Red Deer. That’s when I started to take it more seriously.”
What the casual fan might not know is that many top officials actually begin their vocation much earlier than you’d think. “I first started refereeing in Rocky when I was 12 or 13 while I was playing. I kept on doing that as I was trying to decide if I wanted to play junior, but when I said my playing days were done I took officiating more seriously. But it was always important to me to play hockey after becoming an official because it was a great way to keep your perspective of the game. You learned how to give it, and how to take it!”
The IIHF has an ever-changing pool of talent and many officials have “day jobs”. In Huseby’s case, he’s a Grade 5 school teacher who limelights at WHL arenas at night, for the joy of staying in the game.
“I studied to be a teacher,” he described. “I did [teachers’ college] two years in Red Deer and then two years in Edmonton, met my wife there and continued to ref all that time. And now I live in Red Deer with my wife and three kids. My oldest will play U13 this year. I have a middle daughter who’s into dance, and my youngest is four, so he’s going to play U5 hockey this year, which will be interesting.”
But as everyone who knows junior hockey knows, that’s a serious level of play, and you don’t there by accident, and you don’t get there over night. “Everything is a progression,” Huseby related, “so I started in minor hockey and work junior B, then some Junior A, and then the people who run the WHL run different summer camps that you can go to, to get on their radar and be recognized. I attended a couple of those camps, and that’s where it started. Once they recognize you, you continue to work and hopefully one day you get a call and get hired. I’ve been working the WHL 14 seasons, and it’s been awesome.”
Of course, that progression has been impressive to date and begs the question, what about the NHL or other top-level IIHF events?
“That’s a question I get asked a lot. It’s a tricky thing trying to balance family life with refereeing and life. If making the NHL is the kind of thing you aspire to do, you really have to make a run at it. Calgary is getting an AHL team this year, so hopefully I’ll work some of those games, but in general things are pretty good for me now in terms of my career, working games mostly around Red Deer and spending a lot of time with my family. But any time you get the opportunity to come to a tournament like this, I feel very fortunate. There are a lot of great officials out there, but I know there are those opportunities [like the Olympics] out there, and you never know what might happen.”
Those are two distinct tracks, however. The NHL track is definitely connected to the WHL and then AHL, but the highest IIHF events are through another system of development. “The IIHF opportunities are really done regionally, so it’s Hockey Canada that would put my name forward to get licensed, and names are selected from that. From my end, it’s more through my boss in the WHL, which is Kevin Muench. That’s how the process works,” Huseby said.
WHL talent is pretty much the same age category as the World Juniors, but make no mistake; there are differences, most of which boil down to the high level of play at the IIHF event. “The speed. The players are so talented in this tournament. It’s best-on-best. They move the puck so quickly, push the play so quickly. Everything is just heightened. From an officiating standpoint, we have to meet that intensity. We take a lot of pride in trying to get everything right, be in the right spot at the right time to make the right call. That’s the biggest difference.”
Huseby has noticed it has become easier making the transition from WHL to U20, thanks to the new IIHF Rule Book which is tending towards the NHL rather than an independent source.
“One thing we learned from meetings at Christmas about the rules is that the IIHF is really trying to standardize things with the NHL, trying to mesh the two. When I worked that first tournament in Estonia, there was quite a bit of difference, little things you had to be aware of, but now it’s fairly aligned now, which is a good think, I think.”
For now, Huseby has an off-day after lining the Finland-Germany quarter-finals game, hoping to make the cut for one of the semi-finals games. Whether he’s there or not, he’ll be watching and learning, ready to bring his best to the ice, whether it’s an IIHF game or a WHL game... or beyond.