Hey Ref: 10 questions with Marco Hunt

By Duncan Ryhorchuk

The dream of every young hockey player is to play in the NHL, for their high school in the state tournament, or for a Division I team. Not too many kids dream of being a hockey official when they grow up.

Similarly, Marco Hunt never dreamt he would be one of the top NCAA officials, but the path he took, and his accomplishments along the way, make him very deserving of his established destination. As you will discover in this Q&A, Hunt has worked as an on-ice official for a lot of games that kids dream about playing in.

Q: Where are you from, where did you grow up, where did you go to high school?

Marco Hunt: I grew up in Woodbury and played hockey at Woodbury Senior High.  I am a 1984 grad of WSH.

Q: Where did your hockey playing career take you?

MH: After high school I had some interest at some Division I schools to walk on and was all set to play in the USHL until I made a fairly last-minute decision to go to college. I decided that if I could not play Division I, I would go to next best thing and that was Bemidji State. I played four years at BSU where we won the NCAA Division III National Championship in 1986. I had a couple options to possibly play overseas after college, but nothing came of it so I concentrated on officiating.

Q: How old were you when you first started officiating? Why did you start?

MH: I started officiating when I was about 12 years old, doing Mite games outdoors. I really got into it while in high school working in District 8 for Paul Moen. I worked on Saturday and Sunday mornings, basically for some extra money, but also so I didn’t have to go to church!

During the week, different coaches from Woodbury Area Hockey would pick me up so I could ref their scrimmages. While at Bemidji, I got into working some youth games, but when my coach found out about it, he put an end to that. After I got done with my playing career I had some school left in order to graduate so I got a hold of Dan Dow who was running the youth hockey association in Bemidji. He asked me if I was interested in being his high school partner. I got my MSHSL certification and the next thing I knew I was refereeing Brainerd at Detroit Lakes.

One of my favorite memories of working Section 8 was working outdoor games in Bagley. I remember thinking, “What if my city friends could see me now!”

Q: How did you get hired to work in the WCHA? How long have you been with them? What was your path there?

MH: I worked two years in Section 8 in Bemidji where I was lucky enough to work most of Bemidji High’s home games as a linesman. During that time I worked with legendary officials such as Buzz Olson, Buzz Christianson, Tom Goddard and many more. All of those relationships helped me when I moved back home to Woodbury in 1990 and was accepted in the St. Paul Hockey Officials Association.

I worked my way up the ranks in SPHOA where Jerry Krieger was the assigning secretary for high school and the MIAC. I started lining in the MIAC and eventually refereed.

Once Bill Kronshnabel started to assign games in the NCHA, I started to referee in that league as well. The NCHA is really where I learned how to referee college hockey. I still say to this day NCHA games were as hard to officiate as any games I have worked.

In 1997 Greg Shepherd put me on the WCHA staff as a linesman. This was the year that the NCAA went back to the one referee, two linesman system. I worked five years as a linesman and in 2002 I got a chance to work the Frozen Four in St. Paul. That was the year the Gophers won the championship. The next season I started as a referee in the league. This season is my 10th as a referee and 15th overall in the WCHA.

Q: What is your role with St. Paul Officials Association and the MSHSL?

MH: Last spring I retired after a 10+ year run as the President of the St. Paul Hockey Officials Association. I still am involved with the group as an evaluator, as well as that same role for Bill Kronshnabel with the MSHSL. I really enjoy going to high school games and helping develop our younger officials. The feedback is always amazing. Most of the young officials are really looking to become better and that is really nice to see.

Q: What is your weekend schedule like when you work in the WCHA?

MH: When I do get a chance to work at Minnesota, my schedule is very different than when we are on the road. My office is right up the road from Mariucci so it’s an easy drive.

Working at St. Cloud and Mankato is also nice for me. We commute back and forth Friday and Saturday there so I sleep in my own bed and it also allows me to spend more time with my family.

The hardest thing about working the WCHA is I am away a lot of weekends. My wife, Marne, and I have a five-year-old son that just started playing hockey this year and I really enjoy helping out with the Mite team when I can.

When we are on the road we normally leave early Friday mornings whether that is a flight out to Denver, Grand Forks or Omaha and if we are going to Anchorage it is a Thursday flight. We are usually in the city we are working that weekend by noon Friday. Lunch, and if we are lucky a nap before leaving for the rink.

We are at the rink two hours before game time where we grab a coffee and take a lap or two around the rink and then it’s off to the locker room to get ready for a very competitive game of wall ball to loosen up for that night’s game.

After the game we normally head out for a beverage and something to eat. The older we get, the earlier we get back to the rooms! The next morning usually calls for some breakfast and watching game videos.

The WCHA puts up all the penalties for every game on a website so we normally watch all our clips and most of the other games. Seeing what is going on throughout the league is very helpful to us. We all know a penalty when we see it. It is more a matter of positioning and if a penalty is missed, why was it missed.

Q: What is the most exciting game that you have officiated?

MH: I have had the opportunity to work many great hockey games over the years. There are a few that really stand out to me. The first was the State High School hockey tourney championship game back in 1995.

Ed Zepeda and I got the chance to work this game between Duluth East and Edina. The game ended up being a classic 1-0 game. Duluth East appeared to tie the game on a goal with a few seconds left but Ed waved off the goal for a high stick. It was a great call but at the time I was just sick to my stomach. 
After we left the ice we went directly to the TV production truck outside our locker room to look at the video to make sure. The high stick was there and we all felt a great deal of relief!
I also got the unbelievable opportunity to work the NCAA Championship game in 2009 in Washington, DC. Miami (Ohio) was up 4-2 with two minutes remaining and BU scored two goals to tie the game and then won the game in overtime. It was a great experience and something that I will never forget.

Q: What is one of the most unique things that has happened to you on the ice?
MH: I was working at the Air Force Academy once several years back when my linesman got sick on the ice. I turned up the ice to head back up and he was on one knee throwing up. The thing I remember most about it was the crowd’s reaction. Once they noticed he had gotten sick, the crowd erupted with a huge groan. He left the ice after that but returned later to a standing ovation.

The most memorable thing for me personally was a regional game in Bridgeport, Conn., back in the same year we worked the championship game. In the East Regional final there, in the second overtime  between Air Force and Vermont, a Vermont defenseman shot a puck that went through the netting. No one really noticed that it had gone through the net at first.

The play went on for six minutes until we had a whistle. Something just didn’t look right on that shot so we wanted to review the shot. After a 12-minute review, ESPN finally was able to get us a look that we needed. It showed the puck going through the netting and off the back boards.

We awarded a goal and Vermont was headed to the Frozen Four. I still have the Sportscenter clip saved on my TIVO at home.

Q: What are some aspect of officiating you think would help young officials?  

MH: Work as many games as you can. The more games you work, the better and more comfortable you will get. Get to know your assigning secretary and become their go to official. Never turn an assignment down if possible and after awhile you will be the first official they call when a game becomes available. I remember working 5-6 games a day every Saturday and Sunday when I was younger.

The one thing I notice consistently when I watch younger officials work is that they are in too much of a hurry when they officiate. They need to slow down, make good signals and appear very much in control. Hustle and being too much in a hurry are very different things. Hockey is a very chaotic game and as a referee you need to be the calming influence on the rink.

Also, like everything else in the world, politics get involved, in what games get assigned. Sometime it seems like you are not getting the “big” games. Don’t let yourself get wrapped up in that type of thinking and with things that are not in your control. Work the games you get assigned, don’t complain about them, and go out and do your best. If you do that, and work hard, you will get big games. Force people to have to use you in the bigger games and they will.

Q: What are some of your goals as an official?

MH: Being at the tail end of my officiating career, I have met a lot of my goals, i.e. work the State Tournament AA Championship, work the WCHA, the Final 5, the NCAA’s and the NCAA Division III and Division I Championship.

I would say that my next goal would be to work one more championship game. The hardest thing about getting to work a championship game is that is not always about your merit on the ice. We are not allowed to work any of the games in the NCAA tournament that are from our league. Since the WCHA is the premier league in the country, our teams are usually involved such as last year when North Dakota and UMD were at the Frozen Four. Since there was a team in each semifinal, our officials were not given any Frozen Four assignments.

I would say my next goal would be to have some type of supervisory role in any of the leagues when things are realigned. I am not sure if I would want to be a head supervisor at this point, but some type of supervisor or evaluator in Division I would interest me.

Congratulations and good luck on continuing your great officiating career weather it be on the ice or as a supervisor.

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