Officiating in the 2021 World Junior Championships in Edmonton-Red Deer was a surreal experience for Mark Pearce.
Watching the championships became a Pearce-family tradition every year. He’s also had the chance to watch live in 2006 and 2018.
“When I started officiating it wasn’t an immediate goal,” says Pearce, 33, who played two seasons in the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League with the Golden Xtreme/Jets and Summerland Sting. “I started plugging along and getting further into my officiating career and realized it was something I could work towards. It was quite an honour and a privilege.”
Pearce, who has his Level 6 certificate, has experience in the Pacific Junior Hockey League (PJHL), British Columbia Hockey League (BCHL), USport and Western Hockey League (WHL), began officiating in 1999 with the North Vancouver Minor Hockey Association (MHA). He has also officiated in the World U17 Challenge, Western Canada Championship, Royal Bank Cup, World Junior A Challenge and Ed Chynoweth Cup. He has also officiated in 12 games over five weeks last February and March in Austria’s Bet-at-home Ice Hockey League, formerly known as the Erste Bank Eishockey Liga.
He says officiating in those events helped him be comfortable at the WJC.
“Working any tournament are high pressure situations,” says Pearce, who refereed three preliminary games and one quarter-final game in the WJC. “International events like World Juniors, U17 challenge, WJAC are shorter events. The players and teams are only together for a week or a couple weeks and there is a lot on the line.”
The Centennial Cup (Junior A national championship) and working deep into WHL playoffs has given him a lot of experience. He learned how to respond in certain situations.
What Pearce loved about the WJC experience was reconnecting with friends and meeting new people. He was able to talk to them about officiating and gain small tips he can use. Pearce, who is working towards a bachelor of education at UBC, hopes to use that information when he resumes working in the WHL, once their season starts.
What he will remember about being at the WJC is the bubble environment and working a high calibre tournament. However, his biggest takeaway was being able to see colleagues he hadn’t seen since last February or March.
Pearce’s junior hockey experience has been valuable in his success as a referee. Pearce played in the KIJHL between 2005-07 and was coached by Brad Fox and Richard Kromm, who were positive influences on him.
His playing experience was especially key in his first two seasons of officiating, as he was able to build a rapport with players he played with and against in the PJHL and the coaches who knew him. That helped with communicating, so the main challenge he faced was implementing the proper standard of play – admitting he likely let too much go.
As he’s built a strong officiating resume, Pearce has shifted his dreams from wanting to work in the NHL, to earning more International Ice Hockey Federation assignments. When Pearce hit his 30s, he realized the likelihood of officiating in the NHL wasn’t going to happen.
He began officiating when he was 12 and always enjoyed it. He took a break to play junior hockey, then got back into it when his mother encouraged him to return after injuries ended his playing career.
“Going to that first clinic and getting some games, I was able to reconnect with some of the guys that I had been officiating with before,” says Pearce. “One of them encouraged me to take it a little more seriously and to consider working in the Above Minor Program. I could actually do something with this.”
While the travel can be a grind in the middle of a season, especially when weather conditions force detours and delays, Pearce enjoys all aspects of being a referee. He loves being on the ice and working high level hockey and working in front of crowds upwards of 10,000 fans.
“It’s a rush of adrenaline,” he says. “We all enjoy that aspect of it. The road trips as well – traveling to the U.S., the Okanagan – just being able to hangout with the guys.”
Pearce encourages players to become an official, but once they are ready to stop playing – whether it be in Division III, the B.C. Intercollegiate Hockey League or U Sports.
“Officiating is a pretty good route to go. There is a lot of opportunity and some of my best friends are fellow officials.
“Playing longer makes it easier to transition into an officiating role,” he continues. “Especially if they have a bit of officiating experience before.”