Brandon Balbirnie has realized the first big step in a dream he’s had since he was 12 years old.
The 100 Mile House athlete is moving up the refereeing ladder. He worked his first game as a linesman in the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League (KIJHL) in his home town when the Wranglers took on the Revelstoke Grizzles in a Junior B tilt on Sept. 23.
“Yes, it was a big step up for me. It’s something that I always wanted to do.”
Balbirnie’s officiating journey started in September 2012 when he was playing Peewee Rep hockey in the 100 Mile & District Minor Hockey Association. He was 12 years old at the time.
“I had some friends who were reffing games locally, so I thought I would give it a try. I always liked being on the ice.”
Balbirnie says he played minor hockey seriously until his first year of Midgets when he was 15 years old.
“I took a step back and decided I would stop playing and take refereeing a little more seriously.”
So, then he immersed himself in refereeing and worked on developing his knowledge and skills.
During the next three years, Balbirnie attended a refereeing camp in Lake Cowichan on Vancouver Island, which was put on by BC Hockey.
“It was offered by the Referee in Chief of the local minor hockey association at the time. I was kind of on the fence about it; I wasn’t sure about it.
“But I met some great people. It was nice to meet people with a similar mindset, similar love of the game and similar experiences — just bunch of people who had something in common.”
Balbirnie says it made him look at all of the officials around the province.
“It’s like a really big family. We can all talk to each other; we can all relate on a level that only another official can understand.”
He adds going to the camps made him like officiating more and respect it more.”
However, Balbirnie didn’t just jump into officiating in the KIJHL.
It was more like a measured, structured journey from minor hockey to higher-calibre hockey and eventually the KIJHL.
The 18-year-old says he was sort of scouted when he started officiating out-of-town games and getting his name out in different places.
“In January 2016, I did the Kamloops International Bantam Ice Hockey Tournament (KIBIHT) because BC Hockey had been watching me. They invited me to that tournament, so they could have a closer look at me.
Balbirnie says he was invited to officiate a Major Midget game in Kamloops two weeks later.
In 2017, he was back in Kamloops refereeing KIBIHT.
“I was only 16 when I went to the first KIBIHT tournament and then BC Hockey invited me back so they could look at me again.
“Then this year, they gave me a crack at the KIJHL.”
Balbirnie is in the process of moving to Kamloops, so he can gain more experience officiating a higher quality of hockey.
Noting there is a schedule for games that need officials, Balbirnie says he gets scheduled for games and then he gets called by BC Hockey.
The 18-year-old says it’s normal to spend a year or two as a linesman in the KIJHL before he gets a crack at reffing games.”
While he’s not going to school at this time, Balbirnie says the move will involve “work [officiating games], getting out on my own and experiencing life.”