Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

North seeks whistle-blowers

Hockey referees needed to officiate in Nunavut

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IF you'd like the chance to travel to one of the most remote -- and friendly -- parts of the world, you might want to become an amateur hockey referee.

A quartet of local refs has been imported to Nunavut over the past couple of weekends because hockey officials there are scrounging to find qualified whistle-blowers for tournament and regular-season games.

Jeff Strome, referee-in-chief for the Winnipeg Jets Hockey League, an adult recreation league run by True North Sports & Entertainment, was flown into Rankin Inlet last Friday, put up in a new hotel and had free meals while he worked three games in the Northern Challenge League.

(He was supposed to work five games ,but inclement weather kept one team from northern Quebec from flying in.)

"It's a very high level of hockey. I'd compare the speed to Junior A. They have a shortage of (referees) who can handle that level," said Strome, who also does games for the Winnipeg Minor Hockey Association.

"The difference is there's no bodychecking allowed, so you get some really fast-paced games. They're able to dangle and dance as much as they want," he said.

The community was really supportive of the hockey and every game Strome did was standing-room-only.

"They jammed it full of people even in the middle of a blizzard on Saturday night. It was the thing happening in town," he said.

Strome had never been to Nunavut before but he's looking forward to heading back to work some more games.

"It was a really interesting experience. The lifestyle up there is so drastically different. They refer to us as 'the south.' The obvious thing is the weather, it's much colder. You're dealing with -60 with the wind chill on a daily basis," he said.

"I found it kind of fun because I had never experienced something like that before. You're putting on two or three pairs of long johns and you wear a balaclava or your face will get frostbite but once you're bundled up, it's not so bad.

"Walking into the wind, though, is the worst."

The cost of living is considerably higher, too. A four-litre container of milk costs $11 and a can of coke is $2.50.

There's a minimum of sunlight, too. The sun rose around 10 a.m. but set every afternoon around 3:30 p.m.

Blake Rempel, who also works in the WMHA, was one of three referees flown to Arviat, located about 400 kilometres north of Churchill, two weeks ago.

He said the best part was being taken dogsledding.

"They dressed us up in some traditional furs and sent us out on the back of a sled. It was quite the experience. It was wide open, above the treeline," he said.

"One of the other guys brought in to ref got to take the reins on another sled. The dogs don't know where they're going on the way out but they do on the way back."

Rempel, who was accompanied by fellow referees Darcy MacPherson and Mike Lazaruk, said they also sampled caribou meat for the first time.

Strome said he had the feeling of being far removed from a big city in the remote community of 2,300 people.

"You can really sense that in their culture. There are a lot of people living there who have never been to a bigger city. It's like going back in time in a way," he said.

geoff.kirbyson@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 8, 2013 A6

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