we have a very special edition of Between the Stripes this week. He is Florida made and Riverview is where he stays. Charlie O’Connor. For those of you who are reading or seeing his name for the first time, Charlie is an elite referee that doesn’t just call LHSHL games. He’s worked AHL games including two Clark Cups and now he’s a full-time ref in the ECHL. This interview was about a half hour long. Looking back at it I should have made it an hour. I could have talked to Charlie all day about his craft. He lives a sick life.
“Born and raised in Riverview, FL. You can’t even do this anymore because of child labor laws and I don’t think you can even register until your 14 now but I became a referee at 10 years old. I did my fair share of mite rec games for a while and eventually worked my way up the ladder I actually got involved with USA Hockey through Ron Buckner. Over the years I had played with Ron’s oldest son, Ryan, and one day he asked me if I wanted to make some money because I was always at the rink being a scorekeeper and just an overall rink rat. My parents were beyond supportive of me doing this and becoming an official just like with everything I’ve done in life. They loved the idea of me learning more as a student of the game. Making $18.00 a game is a lot of money for a kid that age. I kept working and working at it. Did some high school games after I graduated from Riverview High School and then you fast forward a little bit I’m 29 now and I’m doing it full-time.”
Charlie wasn’t only on the ice in black and white. He, just like all of you played the game we love and at a high level. “After high school, I went to the University of New Hampshire to play hockey there but the summer before I went to UNH, I got an email from USA Hockey to come
to a camp in Connecticut. It was basically a try out for Tier III juniors. Back then there were two northeast based leagues, the Metropolitan Junior Hockey League and the Atlantic Junior Hockey League that USA Hockey ran. Eventually, I got hired on those staffs and that’s where I got my start officiating at a higher level. I was a referee for four years up there while attending, playing, and ultimately graduating from UNH.”
When the time came to leave Durham, New Hampshire. Charlie got a call from Scott Brand who was the USHL's Head of Officiating back then who hired him on full-time to be an official in the league. “I moved from UNH to Chicago and moved into an apartment there with six other USHL officials and we basically roamed all over the mid-west working games. I was lucky enough to officiate two Clark Cup Finals in both years I worked in the USHL. After my second year, I got another call from Joe Ernst, who is the Senior Vice President of Hockey Operations in the East Coast Hockey League. Joe hired me on, so I moved to Greenville, South Carolina. I lived there for four years while working full-time in the ECHL.”
Just this past year, Charlie decided to move back to Tampa and still be a full-time official in the ECHL. In the not too distant future, Charlie will be starting law school at Stetson University to prepare for life after he hangs the skates up. I spoke to him the other day while he had an off day. He was in Toledo, OH getting ready for game 3 and 4 of the Kelly Cup.
This man has seen at all in the hockey world. Something I had to know was the major differences between the level of hockey we are all in now, high school and the next level. “On the biggest differences in the safety component and the fact that in the high school league, we’re dealing with young adults. I don’t like to call them kids because that’s not what they are. They are young adults. Safety of the players is important at all levels but as an official, you need to place a big emphasis on player safety. I tend to call high school and youth level games a lot tighter than other levels because if you don’t, and you call a loose game. It can get out of hand pretty quickly. There is a clear skill gap with players at the high school level. Some kids play AA and AAA hockey while others just love the game and play the game for fun. At the next level, every player has the potential to be a professional hockey player.
I cannot put into words how much I enjoyed talking with Charlie. He is a class act and embodies everything we here at the LHSHL love about the game of hockey. If you get the chance to play in a game he is officiating in, stay away from the extracurricular's after the whistle. He’ll ring you up for that faster than you can imagine.
Also, Game 4 of the ECHL Kelly Cup is on tonight. Newfoundland at Toledo – Friday, May 31 at 7:35 p.m. ET. Tune in and watch Charlie do his thing!
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