NHL ref glad to back at work
Hockey: Tom Kowal has enjoyed extra time with family
By: Bruce Campbell
| Posted: Wednesday, Jan 09, 2013 12:24 pm
A foothills resident is tired of having his job on hold and he’s looking forward to calling holding in the future.
Tom Kowal is glad the 113-day NHL lockout is over and he can get back to work as a referee in the best hockey league in the world.
“I’m relieved,” Kowal said. “It’s been kind of nice being able to help coach my son’s hockey team and going to my daughter’s school plays for a change, but it’s good to get back to work.”
Kowal said he expects to fly off to some destination — likely Toronto — for a few days of orientation next week before being jetted off to begin his job somewhere, when the NHL schedule starts on Jan. 19.
A seventh-month hiatus for both players and officials leading into a short season will make things interesting for those involved.
“I think it’s going to be hard for everybody — the players and the officials — but I think it is going to be exciting,” Kowal said from his High River home. “It will take a while for everyone to get going. I think it will be more scrambly and more wide open at the start (because of no exhibition games), but because it is a short season and each game is so important, I think there will be a lot of intensity.”
The work will also help pay the bills. His paycheques have been few and far between since the lockout started in September.
“The league has made a small loan available to us if we want to take it,” said Kowal, who has been an NHL official since the 1999-2000 season. “It has been tough, but because I love what I do…. That’s been the tough part.”
He said similar to all hockey fans, he was aware of the possibility of the lockout, and took the financial steps necessary to withstand being out of work for a while.”
Kowal had been down this road before. He was an official when the entire 2004-05 hockey season was cancelled.
“Back then, we didn’t know what to expect at all,” Kowal said. “I was in Massachusetts back then and a buddy had an electrical company so I worked electrical and I also worked in a bar.”
Kowal has done some work during the 2012-13 lockout with the Western Hockey League giving some advice to officials. Unlike the NHL players, none of the officials have gone to Europe or other leagues to work during the lockout.
“There was discussions about going over there without taking someone’s job, but it hasn’t come to that,” he said.
Kowal admitted had the lockout continued, he would have considered a chance to help out officials in Austria. He has a pretty good connection — former NHL linesman Lyle Seitz from Okotoks happens to be the director of hockey operations for the Erste Banke Ice Hockey League.
“I really thought about it, but I thought if I go there, I don’t want to take somebody’s job and I had no idea how the lockout would go on,” Kowal said. “We talked about me going over there and doing what Lyle called a coach’s role — so I wouldn’t be taking anybody’s job.
“If there is anybody I would like to help, it’s Lyle.”
The lockout has paid some dividends for Kowal. He’s never had this much time with his family during a Canadian winter.
Kowal has had the opportunity to do some things dads across the foothills might take for granted.
“I have been driving my kids to dance, helping coach my son’s hockey team — I just came off the lake (Sunshine in High River) from skating,” Kowal said. “All those things I miss most seasons, I have been doing them.
“From that standpoint a lot of good things have gone on.”
He’s also become more immersed in the foothills community. He is a director with the High River Jr. B Flyers, sits on a proposed High River KidSport committee and the last game he refereed was the Ollie Petersen shinny fundraiser.
Meanwhile, Kowal has been working out at Peak Potential Fitness in High River to keep in shape.
“I am ready to go, but you are never in game shape until you actually get in the game,” Kowal said.
“I’m looking forward to it.”