Chilliwack referee Connor McCracken got his first taste of international action last week, working the World U17 Challenge.
The tournament was held Nov. 3-12 in Langley and Delta.
McCracken, 24, was one of 16 officials (eight referees/eight linespersons) working the event. He was one of just two from B.C. along with linesperson Mitchell Gibbs from Coquitlam.
“Being one of just 16 guys across the entire country working an event like this, it’s not something you take for granted and I take great pride in it,” he said.
Prior to this, the biggest event the young referee worked was the National Aboriginal Hockey Championships (NAHC) in Whitehorse in 2019.
He also worked the junior B Cyclone Taylor Cup a few years ago and called that his entry into higher level events. From that moment on he was targeting the World Junior A Challenge.
“This is the entry-level Hockey Canada event,” he explained. “To be able to work the U18 Hlinka-Gretzky tournament or work towards the junior A nationals, this is a first stepping stone towards getting licensed by the IIHF (International Ice Hockey Federation).
“COVID held it off for a while, but it was my number one goal coming into this year, and when I found out I was doing it a month or two ago, I was over the moon about it.”
The seven-team tournament included three Canadian entries along with the United States, Finland, Sweden and Czechia.
“That part was pretty surreal,” said McCracken, who reffed Sweden vs Czechia Nov. 9. “It was pretty cool to finally work a game with European teams and see that next pinnacle.
“Working in the junior A and major junior, you see kids from different countries and all over, but to do a completely international game made me feel humble for sure.”
The World U17 Challenge is a showcase for players who hope to be drafted by National Hockey League teams next year. The United States roster included projected first overall pick Cole Eiserman, who ended up with 12 goals and 20 points in just seven games.
At the same time the players were strutting their stuff, McCracken was also showcasing his skills.
“There is similar pressure on the officials as there is for players because there are only so many of us selected for a tournament like this,” he said. “Lots of officials wanted to be here, so you’re trying to prove you were the right person to be here. As much as we (officials) are all teammates, we all want to work that final game as well and we all want to be the best, so there is competition out there.
“We see ourselves as athletes just as much as the players are. Maybe other people don’t always see us that way, but that’s our mindset.”
For McCracken, job one is maintaining a safe and fair standard on the ice.
“Being patient and letting the game come to you is the big key to success,” he said. “When you start looking for stuff, that’s when you start to run into trouble. We’ve all worked high levels of hockey and that’s what got us here. So just taking our experience into this tournament and just doing our thing, that’s what I try to look for.”
With the tourney over, McCracken is now back to his regular officiating life.
This season he’s started working more Western Hockey League games, which is another big step in his career. McCracken is still officiating junior A and B and university hockey.
“Between a variety of leagues I’m getting quite a few games, developing myself at every level I get to work,” he said. “I’m excited to be wherever they put me.”