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'I was a sponge these past four years:' P.E.I. resident earns his stripes as a QMJHL referee

Chris Ivanko is in his first season as a referee in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
Chris Ivanko is in his first season as a referee in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. - Jason Malloy
CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. —

Chris Ivanko was watching TV when something caught his attention.

The Purcell’s Cove, N.S., native heard TSN hockey insider Darren Dreger describing a new combine to expose former players to officiating in 2014.

“It was very appealing to me,” said the former Truro Bearcat and Dalhousie Tiger. “I wanted to kind of stay with the game but at a different side of the puck.”

Winger Chris Ivanko played three seasons with the Truro Bearcats of the Maritime Junior Hockey League.
Winger Chris Ivanko played three seasons with the Truro Bearcats of the Maritime Junior Hockey League.

Ivanko went online to find out more information and decided to apply. He was accepted and went to Buffalo, N.Y., for the event.

Ivanko came back to Nova Scotia and started officiating major bantam and high school games. Before long, he moved up to major midget, junior B and the Maritime Junior Hockey League.

He did his first game in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League as a linesman in September 2015, and this year has become a referee.

“I was pretty honoured to increase in levels so quick,” Ivanko said.

But, he admitted, it was an eye-opening experience.

“At first, I put on the jersey . . . and said this is going to be a breeze,” he recalled. “I thought I had all the answers because I was an ex-player coming in to do these games, but I was nowhere near the official I am today.”

Ivanko said he was fortunate to have good supervisors who helped him grow in his new profession.

“It takes time. I was a sponge the past four years . . . trying to see how different referees managed a game.”

Bearcats head coach Shawn Evans was not surprised to see Ivanko quickly move up the ranks, but they never talked about officiating during his three-year junior A career.

“He was built like a train, he could really skate and he could shoot,” Evans said. “He has the physical attributes to be an excellent referee.”

Evans has had Ivanko ref some of his games in the Maritime league.

“His style of refereeing is exactly what I like. He’s quiet, he’s unassuming, he’s in charge of the game and he treats coaches with respect,” the veteran bench boss said. “I know he’s climbing the ranks and I hope he makes it to the top.”

Ivanko moved to Prince Edward Island with his girlfriend, Conner MacIntyre, in January 2019. He attended the Atlantic Police Academy and did his on-the-job training with the Charlottetown Police Services. He is currently working at UPEI and hopes to work for one of the province’s municipal police forces.

Ivanko recently attended Hockey Canada’s level 6 certification in Brossard, Que., with about 20 other officials across the country. The certification prepares officials for the highest level of Hockey Canada and International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) competition.

Ivanko would love to make it to the NHL but knows the window is slowly closing as he nears his 30th birthday. He said he will continue to work hard to improve and see how far he can make it.

“I’ve always kind of dreamed of doing one of those big tournaments,” he said. “I would love to do the Spengler Cup.”

Ivanko encourages other players who are nearing the end of their competitive playing days to consider officiating.

“It takes a special person to lace the skates up and be on the other side of the puck where you’re public enemy No. 1, but at the same time there’s so many benefits that come with refereeing,” he said, noting the great friends he has made since becoming an official.

“You’re the third team on the ice. You’re still a valuable asset to the game of hockey.”

Referee Chris Ivanko watches the play in front of the Saint John Sea Dogs goal during a game earlier this season with the Charlottetown Islanders at the Eastlink Centre.
Referee Chris Ivanko watches the play in front of the Saint John Sea Dogs goal during a game earlier this season with the Charlottetown Islanders at the Eastlink Centre.

Need to know

Chris Ivanko

Who – A 29-year-old Purcell’s Cove, N.S., native who now lives in Prince Edward Island and is a hockey referee.

Dalhousie Tigers forward Chris Ivanko, left, tries to avoid a hit from UPEI Panthers defenceman Matt Boyle during the 2012-13 Atlantic University Sport hockey season.
Dalhousie Tigers forward Chris Ivanko, left, tries to avoid a hit from UPEI Panthers defenceman Matt Boyle during the 2012-13 Atlantic University Sport hockey season.

Playing days – Ivanko played in the Maritime Junior Hockey League with the Truro Bearcats from 2007-10 and in the Atlantic University Sport with the Dalhousie Tigers, 2012-14.

Statistics

Season           GP       G         A         Pts.

2007-08           56        14        21        35

2008-09           54        25        25        50

2009-10           48        25        32        57

2012-13           22        3          6          9

2013-14           28        9          7          16

Officiating – Ivanko was a linesman for 82 games in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League between 2015-19 and has been a referee for nine games this season.

Ivanko said: “It’s really an honour to put on the orange bands and be a referee.”

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