NHL job would be well-earned reward for Medicine Hat referee
|Chris Schlenker waves off a goal in the WHL playoffs.|
Last season, Chris Schlenker won the Allen Paradice Memorial Trophy as the WHL’s top official. On July 7, Scoutingtherefs.com reported that the Medicine Hat product was one of four officials hired by the NHL. A day later, Hockey Alberta sent out a release stating Schlenker was making the jump to the NHL.
The NHL itself has yet to officially confirm any new referee or linesmen hires. Unlike player, coach and general manager signings, referee and linesmen hires barely register as a blip on the radar for most hockey fans. Those that care about that kind of news are usually the family and friends of an official.
Schlenker’s case is different.
The 32-year-old has always been popular in his hometown of Medicine Hat, and when he skated as a defenceman with the WHL’s Regina Pats and Prince Albert Raiders from 2001 to 2005, his popularity expanded in the hockey world in Western Canada.
On the ice, fans loved the hits Schlenker dished out. Standing 6-foot-2 and weighing 198 pounds, he was a rock solid and tough defensive defenceman.
Off the ice, he built a reputation as being a solid team guy serving as the Pats captain and as an assistant captain with the Raiders. When the Pats traded Schlenker in early January 2004 to the Raiders, his departure was greeted with sadness in Regina.
When he arrived in Prince Albert, there might never have been player that was welcomed right away and greeted so warmly into the Raiders dressing room. In 284 WHL regular season games, Schlenker collected 25 goals, 67 assists and 718 minutes in penalties.
After his playing days wrapped, Schlenker settled back in Medicine Hat to raise his family and pursue his career in policing. While his hockey playing days were over, his days in the game were not.
Veteran referee Chris Savage, who had storied career wearing the striped shirt, had also settled down in Medicine Hat to pursue a career as a firefighter with the Medicine Hat Fire Department. Savage got to know Schlenker and recruited the steady rearguard to return to competitive hockey as an official.
|Chris Schlenker keeps tabs on the action on the ice.|
Savage thought that Schlenker would be a natural as a referee after playing the game for an extended time at a high level. If Schlenker applied his gritty work ethic towards officiating like he did his hockey playing career and his policing career, there was no telling what doors might open for him.
Schlenker contemplated the decision for an extended time, before becoming a hockey official about five years ago. He quickly worked his way up the officiating ranks. By the time he was skating in his third season as a referee, Schlenker was in the WHL on a full-time basis.
The games he worked always seemed to have a nice flow to them. He let the soft calls that didn’t have an effect on the game go, and he always got the major ones right.
He mastered the skill of communicating well with the coaches and players on both teams in the games he worked. As a former player, he often was able to spot times when tensions were about to escalate, and he was able to put out fires before they happened.
Schlenker was professional and detailed when it came to watching game film and working with officials supervisors with regards to positioning on the ice and making the correct calls in muddy situations.
He was making the effort to master the craft of being a referee, which takes a lot more commitment than most in the public realize.
At the WHL level, most coaches and general managers that saw Schlenker play respected him for the work he did on the ice as a blue-liner. When Schlenker returned to the WHL as a referee, he earned a new respect from players, coaches and general managers for his efforts as an official.
After Schlenker started working some assignments in the American Hockey League this past season, there were a lot of people in the WHL hoping he would get an NHL shot.
A lot of Schlenker’s teammates from his Pats and Raiders days were sad the Hat product didn’t get a chance to be part of “The Show” as a player. Everyone that knows Schlenker will be pumped to see he found another way to make it to the top.
While most of Schlenker’s assignments next season will likely be in the AHL, his eventual NHL debut will be a dream come true.
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