As part of the 10th annual Hockey Weekend Across America, which has morphed into Hockey Week Across America, we are bringing you a series of features surrounding the celebration of players, coaches, officials, rinks and the many volunteers who make our sport great.
Cameron Voss is just like any other up-and-coming prospect.
While learning his craft in the minors, he works hard to earn a promotion up to the big leagues, not knowing when — or if — the opportunity will come.
While he may eventually get his chance if a guy above him on the depth chart gets injured or falls out of favor, he is not paying attention to that. He is just trying to concentrate on honing his own game.“I don’t think about it, I don’t worry about it, I worry about my next game,” Voss said. “I got a game tonight and that’s what I’m focused on right now. I can’t worry about when [a possible call-up to the National Hockey League] might come, I just got to focus on what’s in front of me tonight, just take it one game at a time. That’s the one thing — you can’t worry about what everybody else is doing or whatnot, you just got to stay in the moment and control what you can control.”
He may sound like a player, but Voss is a referee, and he, too, is working on improving his weaknesses and hoping to impress upper management enough to merit a long-awaited call-up to the big time.
Voss, 30, signed his first NHL contract last summer following two seasons split between the NCAA ranks and the AHL, so he clearly made an impression on the right people during his time there.
“I think the American Hockey League is really a development league as well for officials,” Voss said. “They’re finding guys and getting them to work … and [NHL supervisors are] watching us working games in the [AHL].”
While he is still waiting for his first shot at a real NHL game, Voss did get the chance to referee a couple of pre-season games. He won’t ever forget his first in Dallas back in September.
Voss during a 2016-17 AHL game
“It was pretty cool,” said Voss, who grew up in Shoreview, Minnesota, a Twin Cities suburb. “My dad actually does a lot of work down in Dallas, too, so he was able to come to the game and it was just pretty surreal. You see guys skating around out there that you’ve watched on TV and you just try and take it all in, and once the puck drops, you just got to catch yourself and go to work. It was really fun and the guys that I worked with were great, and it’s definitely something I’ll remember the rest of my life.
Like just about every other official, Voss started out playing the game himself, as a goaltender. When he was 12, he decided to take up refereeing as a way to increase his ice time and help pay for his expensive equipment.
“Me and my dad started reffing together,” Voss recounted. “It was kind of to help pay for some of my goalie equipment and stuff like that, and it was also to be able to spend time with my dad and just to get extra ice time. Growing up in Minnesota, we got all the outdoor rinks, so after school, we were always going to the local rink to play shinny hockey, and we were always on the ice. I would say I was pretty much a rink rat, so any time I could get on the ice and be around the game, I took advantage of it. At 12 years old, making a little bit of money wasn’t a bad thing, either, so I started there and just stuck with it through high school, and it helped pay for my rent when I was in college."
Starting at such a young age, Voss admits it was a steep learning curve early on, but it was fun and he kept at it.
“I was doing mite games and squirt games,” he said of his first season reffing. “Mite games, you’re out there by yourself, and usually, you’re probably out there at like five and six in the morning as a 12-year-old kid freezing at some of the outdoor rinks. But it was great just being on the ice and seeing the game from the other side, and getting yelled at by parents and coaches, and all that. I was really timid my first year. I might have done 40 games and I don’t think I called a single penalty because I was just so nervous.”
While officiating on the side, he also continued to don the goalie pads, playing three years of NCAA Division III hockey at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota. But as his collegiate days wound down, he attended an officials camp in St. Cloud, Minnesota, and began to see a new life path open up for him.
“I really didn’t think about it as a career until I got to the camp and saw all these opportunities that were available, and that I could move up the ladder,” Voss said of the experience. “The supervisors at the camp — Brian Mach, who was working in the NHL as a linesman [and has worked over 1,000 games now] and some of the other guys had worked international hockey and Division I college hockey and other pro hockey, so my eyes kind of lit up and I got really excited, ‘This is awesome, I can travel and go see all these awesome places and hopefully, God willing, make a career out of it.’ I don’t think I ever thought of it like a career until I got to that camp.”
The next season, Voss worked over 100 games of Minnesota junior hockey as a linesman, before coming to the conclusion that at 5-foot-8, he probably needed to switch back to refereeing to make it in pro hockey. Linesmen typically have larger frames to see to the important duty of separating big, combative players.
At that point, he took a leap of faith and moved out to the Boston area to further learn refereeing from Chris Allman, at the time the officiating coordinator for the Atlantic Metropolitan Hockey League (now Director of Officiating for the NAHL), while working those Tier III junior games in the Northeast. Voss also gained valuable knowledge and experience from attending various USA Hockey officiating camps in the summers, and as he continued to absorb the lessons, climbed his way up the ladder.
“I think USA Hockey did a really good job for me and other guys,” Voss said. “Just giving us opportunities working the various junior leagues, having guys come out there and watch us and supervise us, help us out, give us things that we need to work on and just really coach us. Also, the summer camps are great, because you get instructors there that maybe you never met and you get a lot of different perspectives from different people and you kind of just try to find little things that work for you and implement them in your game.
“USA Hockey did a really good job of just coaching me all the way throughout my career and giving me opportunities, because at the end of the day, the only way you’re going to learn is doing a lot of games and messing up a lot of things and learning from your mistakes.”
Now that he’s in his first full season in the AHL, that process is still ongoing, as Voss still continually receives advice about areas he needs to improve on. And that’s just fine with him.
“Whether it’s a supervisor or even the coaches and general managers for certain teams, and now that all these games are online or on TV, I always just assume somebody’s watching,” Voss said, “You’re getting feedback all the time, whether it’s from your peers or supervisors or whatnot. And being able to watch your [own] games now, too — your supervisor’s sending [video] clips to you, whether something got sent in or they were watching the game online and saw something and want you to take a look at it. You’re learning all the time.”
And while the long-awaited call-up to the NHL may not come this season, Voss is enjoying the learning process and just focused on working one game at a time. Just like a player.
|Sunday, Feb. 19||NBC's Hockey Day in America|
|Monday, Feb. 20||Salute to Players|
|Tuesday, Feb. 21||Salute to Coaches|
|Wednesday, Feb. 22||Salute to Officials|
|Thursday, Feb. 23||Salute to Local Rinks|
|Friday, Feb. 24||Wear Your Favorite Jersey Day|
|Saturday, Feb. 25||Try Hockey Day|
|Sunday, Feb. 26||Celebrate Hockey Heroes|
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