Tarrington Wyonzek, who has ties to Canora and the surrounding area, has taken another step toward his goal of becoming an on-ice official in the NHL.
Wyonzek, grandson of Henry and Anne Wyonzek of Canora and Victor and Vickie Puchala of Yorkton (formerly of Rhein), and son of Pat and Karen Wyonzek, found out recently that he has been chosen to work as a linesman at the upcoming 2021 World Junior Hockey Championship in Edmonton, scheduled for December 26 to January 5, assuming there are no changes due to COVID. The tournament is to take place in the same Bubble where the NHL held its games earlier this year.
Even though he has worked international tournaments before, Wyonzek said he was very excited to get the news.
“This is the big one, this is the tournament pretty much everyone pays attention to,” he said. “My family was quite excited for me, even though both my grandmothers were a little disappointed that I won’t be home for Christmas family gatherings.”
Wyonzek said his previous IIHF (International Ice Hockey Federation) experience undoubtedly helped him land this new opportunity.
“I worked previously at the 2019 World Under-18 tournament in Sweden. I had a good tournament and was chosen for the gold medal game between Russia and the host team from Sweden. The rink was sold out and the atmosphere was rockin,’ with Sweden coming out on top, 4 to 3 in overtime,” he recalled.
“Another factor in my being chosen was probably my professional experience. This past season I worked full time in the AHL (American Hockey League) and ECHL (East Coast Hockey League). This was working four to five games per week with players who are about 22 to 25 years old and battling for jobs. They’re grown men, not kids, and it’s much different than junior hockey.”
Organizers for the Edmonton tournament are bringing in more officials than usual due to the uncertainty surrounding COVID, said Wyonzek.
“You never know when someone might get sick, or maybe European officials could have trouble getting flights to Canada.”
As is usually the case in IIHF tournaments, the on-ice officials for the play-offs and the gold medal game will be chosen based on their performance earlier in the tournament. Wyonzek said he has learned to appreciate this performance-based selection system.
“Every time you go on the ice you have to be ready. This tournament is so big for the players, we as officials can’t afford to make mistakes. But I think I perform better under pressure.”
Wyonzek said one of his favourite aspects of working as an on-ice official is learning to excel at communication.
“Communication is so important. In talking to benches, whether it’s coaches or captains, you need to deliver a message in a way they can understand and at the same time doesn’t slow the game down. At the professional level, communication is how you gain trust.”
Before catching on with the AHL and the ECHL, Wyonzek worked as a linesman for six seasons in the WHL, one of the top rated junior leagues in the world.
“In the WHL, there were usually about 3,000 to 5,000 fans per game, depending on the city,” he estimated. “But this past season I was in games with 10,000 to 12,000 fans in the rink. It’s a lot more intense and a lot more fun. I think it makes me better, too.”
In addition to the large crowds, Wyonzek said he thoroughly enjoyed the travelling and seeing many unique cities in the southeastern U.S.
“My favourite city I’ve seen down there is probably Norfolk, Va.,” he stated. “It has a big naval base, and our hotel was just off the harbour. Seeing one of those big ships come in is really something. I enjoy history, and Norfolk has plaques with names of soldiers with local connections who have served. It’s a nice way to spend time before a game.”
Wyonzek lived in Greenville, S.C. during his first season with the AHL and ECHL.
“The nice warm weather is amazing, especially after growing up in the cold winters of Saskatchewan.”
Prior to his IIHF experience, Wyonzek worked a number of significant North American tournaments, including the Traverse City, Michigan NHL Prospect Tournament prior to the 2019-20 NHL season.
“I worked four games at the tournament, which involved the top prospects from eight NHL teams, including the Toronto Maple Leafs, Detroit Red Wings, Chicago Blackhawks, Columbus Blue Jackets, Dallas Stars, Minnesota Wild, New York Rangers and the St. Louis Blues,” said Wyonzek. “These players were trying to prove they belong in the NHL for the upcoming season, so the action was pretty intense.”
Prior to the cancellation of the 2020 Memorial Cup tournament, he patrolled the lines for the previous two Memorial Cup tournaments, a tournament for major junior players involving teams from the WHL, OHL (Ontario Hockey League) and QMJHL (Quebec Major Junior Hockey League).
“The 2018 tournament was unique because it was in Regina where I was living at the time, so I had many friends there,” recalled Wyonzek. “The 2019 tournament was in Halifax, Nova Scotia, which is a hockey-crazy city. Every game was sold out, even if the host team, the Halifax Mooseheads, wasn’t playing. I had the privilege of working the final game. It was as intense as any game gets, even though the Mooseheads lost to Rouyn-Noranda of the QJMHL.”
The WHL representative at the 2019 Memorial Cup was the Prince Albert Raiders, which was involved in another memorable game on Wyonzek’s résumé. He worked the seventh and deciding game of the WHL final for the right to go to the Memorial Cup, as the Raiders hosted the Vancouver Giants.
“I’ve worked a few game 7’s but this was one of the coolest, most exciting games I’ve ever worked,” said Wyonzek. “The rink was crazy all night and the home team won in overtime, so they all went even crazier.”
At the time of his conversation with Canora Courier,Wyonzek was living in Regina, before heading off to Edmonton for World Juniors.
“After that I’m hoping to get back to working in the AHL and ECHL, but the timing for that is so uncertain right now. Every league has dates for games to resume, but that’s subject to change due to the COVID situation.”
Wyonzek said during the COVID pandemic he stayed busy by working a number of games recently in southern Saskatchewan, including for the SJHL (Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League).
“It’s weird with so few fans, or even no fans in the stands,” he admitted. “But for the most part, everyone just appreciates the opportunity to have hockey again.”
Wyonzek is hoping his World Junior assignment gets him closer to his long-term goal of working in the NHL.