Isaac McDonald from the Alberni Valley Minor Hockey Association has earned the 2019 Most Deserving Official Award from the Vancouver Island Amateur Hockey Association.
McDonald, who graduated from Alberni District Secondary School a year ago, is known in Port Alberni for his wrestling prowess. He earned a scholarship to Simon Fraser University’s wrestling program, but turned it down so he could pursue hockey refereeing.
“I started as a kid. I always liked playing hockey; there’s always another side to the game,” McDonald said. “I always watched the (BC Hockey League) Alberni Valley Bulldogs as a kid.”
One of the BHCL officials, Carl Poole, also officiated in the Western Hockey League and McDonald’s dad knew him. “(Carl) was my mentor,” McDonald said. He also looked up to National Hockey League referee Rob Shick from Port Alberni.
At 12 years old, which is the first year one can go to officiating school in B.C., McDonald decided to take his Level 1 course. He started officiating at novice and atom house league games.
“It doesn’t pay much but it’s good to see another side of the game,” he said.
When McDonald’s rep hockey career peaked when he reached midget age, “I started officiating higher and higher levels.”
In 2016 he went to the above-minor officials’ camp for the first time—meaning he could officiate in leagues above minor hockey—and achieved his Level 3. Last year was the second year he officiated Junior B and major midget hockey games.
“I got a lot more games reffing,” he said. “Next year I’m hopefully going to move up to the BCHL and line there. I got offered to ref Junior B and major midget next year.”
He recently returned from the BC Cup in Salmon Arm, where WHL 14-year-old prospects competed. A dozen officials were selected to go and he represented North Vancouver Island.
“That was a great experience,” he said.
Chris Canuel, former referee-in-chief with the AVMHA and now referee-in-chief for North Vancouver Island, said McDonald’s dedication to officiating was evident from a young age.
“I remember Isaac public skating with his dad as a four-year-old wearing a referee’s jersey,” Canuel recalled. “His dad knew he really enjoyed it at that age and he’s continued on.”
Canuel watched as McDonald started as a 12-year-old official, then when he excelled at above-minor camp and began reffing in the Junior B league in 2018-19. “This past season especially, he’s involved himself in being a peer for younger referees in the association.”
McDonald has helped teach clinics to younger officials in various communities on Vancouver Island, assisting Canuel whenever he can. “We have quite a few officials in town,: from beginner up to senior officials, he added.
Canuel sent McDonald to Nanaimo in March to officiate the bantam Tier 2 provincial championships and McDonald was chosen to ref the gold medal game. Between that and the BC Cup in April “he was seen by a lot of BC Hockey representatives, and impressed.
“He’s worked hard at learning the rules of the game and just pursuing it the way he has,” Canuel said.
“He deserves all the credit himself.”
While the ice may be out at the Alberni Valley Multiplex, McDonald will still be on ice this month. In early June he will head to Langley for an officials camp with NHL referee Brad Lazarowich, where he will have the chance to officiate the BC Hockey League Merritt Centennials’ spring camp. After that he will head to Abbotsford for the Centennials’ camp.
“That will be a good experience as well,” he said.
AFTER THE WHISTLE…Blake Moore from the Alberni Valley has earned a scholarship for the 2019 Summer Officiating School.