Brent Reiber isn't your average â€œEuropeanâ€ referee. Before moving to Switzerland, he had a successful amateur career in his homeland of Canada. Brent sat down with HockeyRefs.com in February 2005 for his second exclusive interview.
HockeyRefs.com: Are you married and do you have any children?
Reiber: I married my wife here in Switzerland in 2002 and we have no children.
HockeyRefs.com: Where in Canada are you from?
Reiber: I was born December 31, 1966 in Lloydminster, Saskatchewan and I grew up around the Alcurve area. For those unfamiliar with the region, Alcurve is the next big town away from Hillmond, the birthplace of NHLer Wade Redden. After high school, I spent about 10 years in Saskatoon.
HockeyRefs.com: What levels of hockey did you work in North America?
Reiber: While in Canada I worked virtually every level of amateur, from peewee and bantam to midget and Junior â€˜Bâ€™. When I was 17, I started refereeing Junior â€˜Aâ€™ in the SJHL and University in the CWUAA. Two years later, I made the WHL and worked nine years for them â€“ six of those years as a full-time official. In 1992, I worked the 1996 Memorial Cup in Seattle.
HockeyRefs.com: Did you play hockey?
Reiber: I started playing when I could walk and stopped after my last year of midget. I tried out unsuccessfully for a Junior â€˜Aâ€™ team. After that I concentrated on the whistle.
HockeyRefs.com: Why did you become involved in officiating?
Reiber: I became interested after Leo Wurtz, my eighth grade math teachers, spoke one afternoon about officiating. By the end of the hour, he had me and seven others hooked on trying officiating. Over the years, he became a mentor and a friend. Leo has stopped actively officiating, but remains a great ambassador for the sport.
HockeyRefs.com: What international championships or tournaments have you worked?
Reiber: My international career started in 1996 when I officiated the World Menâ€™s Championship, Pool B in Eindhoven, the Netherlands. After that, I spent six months in Japanâ€™s top league. During that time I also officiated the Nagano Cup, which was a pre-Olympic tournament. Most recently I officiated the 2004 World Menâ€™s Championship, Division I tournament in Oslo, Norway and the 2005 Olympic Qualification in Klagenfurt, Austria. I have also officiated two Deutschland Cups and five Spengler Cups.
HockeyRefs.com: This spring you will officiate at the World Menâ€™s Championship in Austria. Are you exited to call the highest-level of international competition outside of the Olympics?
Reiber: Iâ€™m very excited about this opportunity. I had to basically â€œrestartâ€ my international career after moving to Switzerland in 1997. I never expected to officiate a World Championship, so this is a big deal for me. Many people â€“ both inside and outside of Switzerland â€“ have offered support along my international career path and I owe my thanks to them.
HockeyRefs.com: Can you tell us about one or two funny stories from your career?
Reiber: The funniest one that comes to mind happened in Kennewick, Washington; home of the WHLâ€™s Tri-City Americans. For a whole season, a female fan had been coming to the glass in a corner and taunting us with a dollar bill while we skated our warm-up laps. As I would reach for the bill, she naturally pulled it back. I ignored her the first game, but before the second game, I stopped in front of her and motioned her to show me the bill. I frowned and shook my head â€œNo.â€ Then I held up all five fingers of my hand and mouthed â€œfive,â€ the crowd roared with laughter. About a month later, she appeared once again and this time with a five. She held it just high enough that I couldnâ€™t reach it or she snapped it back right in the nick of time. I tried having a linesman sneak low around the boards in the opposite direction and grab the bill, but the other fans could see what was happened and would always warn her. This went on for the entire season. Finally, on the last day of the season I decided that enough was enough and that it was â€œpay backâ€ time. I waited until late in the game to get my revenge. It was a tight game and one of the teams had requested a time-out. As soon as it began, I went to the glass in her corner and looked for her. I caught her eye and then pulled our a brand new Canadian five dollar bill from my pocket and stuck it emphatically through the break in the glass, the fans were shocked and surprised â€¦ wire eyed, you might say, but they started to clap. She stood up and started to slowly walk towards the glass. As she neared you could sense the excitement in the crowd. Everyoneâ€™s eyes were on her as she approached the glass and naturally, I pulled the pull back right before she grabbed it and stuffed it in my pocket while skating away. The whole rink erupted with laughter and one of my linesmen laughed so hard that he fell to his knees.
HockeyRefs.com: Do you have a favorite arena or dressing room?
Reiber: Almost every arena here in Switzerland has its own special characteristics. No two are alike and I canâ€™t say that one is my favourite. One of my favourite dressing rooms however was in the old Seattle Arena. It was not special in anyway but we had an armed escort to and from the ice. He was â€œMike the Copâ€ and he could scare the crap out of almost any rowdy fan that gave us a nasty glance. I suppose it helped that he always carried a very large pistol.
HockeyRefs.com: How are European and North American officials different?
Reiber: There are more similarities than differences. We as hockey officials face the same problems and challenges in every league and every country. However, the size of the international ice surface in my opinion is the root of many of the differences. The game changes when itâ€™s played on bigger ice. Successful European teams emphasize speed and puck control over size and intimidation. Consequently, the physical contact and fisticuffs that are so popular and common in North America occur less in Europe. The upshot is that officials in Europe have less experience with â€œthe rough stuffâ€ than their North American counterparts. Apart from this one significant difference, the similarities outnumber the differences. One important point to recognize is that every country has a slightly different hockey culture. These cultural differences are quite visible in their respective officiating programs as well.
HockeyRefs.com: Why did you leave Canada to officiate abroad?
Reiber: Back in 1997 the Swiss Ice Hockey Association invited Hockey Canada to send two referees over for the upcoming season. Despite spending the previous fall officiating in Japan and getting a new job, I immediately applied for the chance to officiate in Europe. In the end, a chap named Dave Leger and I were selected and sent off to the land of chocolate and cheese! After that first year, the Swiss league offered to extend my contract and I accepted just three days after meeting my future wife.
HockeyRefs.com: What is it like living and officiating full-time in Switzerland?
Reiber: If someone had told me 10 years ago that I would be a professional referee I would have thanked them and given them a big hug. If they had said it was in Switzerland, I probably would have laughed. My lifestyle is very different here. Iâ€™m home after every game and only seldom do I overnight in a hotel. Hockey is actually quite popular here, perhaps almost as popular as soccer. The large boisterous crowds that fill the rinks singing and shouting create a truly unique atmosphere. As a national sport, hockey also attracts a lot of media coverage. This is where Switzerland differs quite a bit from North America. When a journalist knocks on the dressing room door to ask a question, I have to answer him. My bosses are angry if I donâ€™t speak to them! Accountability in Switzerland is highly regarded. Also, the challenges of learning new languages and learning to live in a new culture are probably the most difficult things about my experience thus far in Switzerland.
HockeyRefs.com: Do you ever wish you were a â€œprofessionalâ€ back home?
Reiber: There is a simple answer to that question and of course, a not so simple answer! If you aspire to be the best at your job, you have to set your goals high. Every player, coach athletic therapist, journalist, broadcaster, stick boy, and referee that is involved in competitive hockey that aspires to be the best, aspires to be in the NHL. Every athlete wants to compete against the best, simply said, the NHL is the best league with the players and the best officials in the world. Who wouldnâ€™t aspire to work there? There is your simple answer!
That being said, we come to the complicated answer. I earn my living doing a job that I love. Sometimes it seems more like baby-sitting than it should, but mostly I enjoy my life and lifestyle immensely. I have time to take care of my health. I have time to enjoy life. It would be wonderful to earn the big NHL cash, but in the large scheme of things, I consider myself (almost) properly paid here. The season runs from August to March. Playoffs last six weeks. I work three to four nights a week in an exciting and challenging league and I still manage to see my wife, Manuela everyday for lunch. I have made many good friends and Iâ€™m involved in my community. I have many great officiating colleagues that support and inspire me. Over the last few years, the officiating program in Switzerlandâ€™s top league has undergone several subtle and not so subtle changes, but the upshot of all these developments has lead to an increased professionalization of officiating and heightened expectations for these officials. Itâ€™s an extremely challenging and independent working environment, one that has made me a better referee not to mention a better person. I call Switzerland home.
HockeyRefs.com: Traditionally, the IIHF has used neutral officials. Should this policy be changed so say a Canadian referee could work a Canada vs. Russia Championship? After all, shouldnâ€™t the best performing officials work the game?
Reiber: In principal, I think the officials should be selected based upon merit. Each game should have the best referee working it, regardless of nationality. In practice however, this idea is very difficult to introduce it. The idea of neutral officials is a deeply ingrained principle in parts of the world outside of North America. It will take some time and perhaps a differently structured IIHF Officiating Program to overcome these longstanding prejudices.
HockeyRefs.com: Do you feel the two-referee system should be implemented in the IIHF?
Reiber: I have actually working several games under this system and have also seen it both in person and on television. My personal opinion of it is rather harsh and critical and I donâ€™t think the IIHF should utilize it. Hockey referees are quite stubborn in nature. They generally have highly developed leadership skills and are self-reliant and self-confident to the point that average fans may not comprehend. They do their job in the most adverse of conditions; in the eye of the storm (to steal a clichÃ©) and do it mostly thanklessly. They are used to working alone and shouldering responsibility alone. Put two of these types together and you have a completely different personal dynamic on the ice. You introduce a whole new set of problems and challenges in both technical and psychological areas. I believe these to be truly enormous challenges. It would be sort of like telling Scott Bowman that he has to co-coach a team with Mike Keenan â€“ just how would that work exactly? And for how long?
HockeyRefs.com: An exchange program for referees from Europeâ€™s top leagues was started this season and you were one of the first participants. What was it like traveling to these different countries and skating these leagues?
Reiber: The IIHFâ€™s exchange program has been the single most interesting and beneficial experience in my career. The participating referees have gained more experience in one season than others could in a lifetime. And with the NHLâ€™s labour disruption, the experience was even more â€œinteresting.â€ Imagine standing at centre ice in Moscowâ€™s Luzhiki Ice Palace listening to the Russian anthem before seeing Dynamo and Lokomotive Jaroslava skate to a 0-0 tie. Think about the crazy atmosphere in the sold-out Cologne Arena when the hometown Haie Sharks take on cross-town rivals DÃ¼sseldorf. Then thereâ€™s seeing Finnish hockey hero Saku Koivu return home and skate for TPS Turko for the first time in 10 years. And what about officiating in Karlstad, Sweden â€“ the home of the traditionally rich FÃ¤rjestads BK?
And when you add top-notch supervision in that mix, you have the unique chance to become a better official. New challenges force adaptation and growth. Iâ€™m not any taller, but the experience Iâ€™ve gained has made me a better referee.
HockeyRefs.com: So now that youâ€™ve seen all these leagues, which is the best?
Reiber: I found that the Swedish league is arguably Europeâ€™s best and the two games I did were intense, hard fought games that brought out the best.
HockeyRefs.com: What advice would you give a young official?
Reiber: Iâ€™m the wrong person to give advice about making a career out of officiating as it happened to me by accident. However, if I were forced into giving advice, I would probably echo many of the sentiments that already appear here on HockeyRefs.com. Be prepared physically and mentally for each and every game, regardless of the level, time of day or number of fans. Get a handle on your routine and chase the elusive goal of consistency, minute for minute, period for period, game for game, week-to-week, and year-to-year. Learn to communicate consciously and to control your unconscious communication. All of these suggestions are important, but the old adage about making your hobby into your career is probably the most pertinent. Itâ€™s important to keep officiating as a hobby until it becomes your career. Work hard, but remember, sometimes success is more like a lottery than a ladder. And as my old buddy Wheels used to say, â€œEvery good game is like a lottery ticket and you canâ€™t win without a ticket!â€