Skip to content

Linesman switches to referee

Trent Knorr started officiating in Powell River
Linesman switches to referee

by Travis Paterson/Victoria News At one time Trent Knorr was the greenest linesman in pro hockey, breaking up fights in the East Coast Hockey League (ECHL) as a 17-year-old.

“Back then it was pretty scary,” he recalled, worried, at the time, of upsetting players. “You want everyone to be your friend. I made my fair share of mistakes, I know that.”

He is a product of both the Powell River minor hockey system and local officiating program. At 19, Knorr officiated games during the 2006 Allan Cup which Powell River Regals won on home ice.

Knorr is 24 now and has risen through the junior ranks all the way to the top, working the 2010 Memorial Cup. But as Knorr climbed, the window to a shot as a National Hockey League (NHL) linesman became smaller and smaller.

His ECHL experience helps, but it’s in junior hockey where the NHL officiating crew scouts future prospects.

Knorr is part of a select few who’ve been noticed and “fast-tracked” for a career as an NHL official.

The NHL brass are big on him.

The problem is they don’t need linesmen. There are currently 33 linesmen and in the next 10 years only a few will be hired by the NHL. But the league could be hiring as many as 10 referees (there are currently 40) in the next five years.

So Knorr switched to referee.

“When Knorr started refereeing that piqued our interest,” said Bob Hall, a former NHL referee and current director of NHL Officials Association.

Instead of watching the puck for offsides he watches for high-sticks and headshots. He just finished his first season as a referee doing 45 games in the Western Hockey League (WHL) and one in the ECHL.

It’s a given there’ll be some sacrifices made by anyone who makes the NHL, but Knorr’s case is unique.

“It’s rare to see a switch from linesman to referee, but at that young of an age, Knorr can do it,” said Kirk Van Helvoirt.

A veteran linesman and friend who has worked alongside Knorr, 33-year-old Van Helvoirt is also highly regarded, having worked this year’s Doyle Cup between the BC and Alberta Junior A champions.

“If you’re a linesman, then just about 100 per cent of the time, that’s it, you’re a linesman (for good),” Van Helvoirt said. “It’s not like switching from forward to defence. It’s two different jobs.”

But Knorr did it and he did it successfully enough that, as a rookie, he refereed the second round of this year’s WHL playoffs.

“We liked Knorr as a linesman, but there just isn’t any opportunities coming up,” Hall said. “He knew he’d have a better chance to make the NHL [as a referee].”

Under Hall’s watchful eyes, Knorr began the year refereeing the annual NHL rookie camp in Penticton last August.

“I never thought I was going to be refereeing but  Kevin Muench [WHL director of officiating] called me last summer and asked me about refereeing and hired me as both just to try it out this year,” Knorr said. “It seems to have panned out. That and I like it.”

This year Knorr will referee full time in the WHL and BC Hockey League (BCHL) as well as the ECHL when his schedule allows.

Eventually he’ll make the jump to the American Hockey League (AHL), the NHL’s top farm league, a move that is less of a change for a referee than it is for a player.

“The WHL has a really good history of training NHL refs,” Hall said. “They get used to travel, used to working large venues and most of all, used to the pressure. So when they go to the AHL the only difference is they’re dealing with men.”

To move up to the next level, an official has to be recommended by someone. In Knorr’s case, Hall was tipped off by former BCHL director of officiating, Frank Broeders. “Broeders phoned me and said Knorr has an incredible skill set, give him a look,” Hall said. “We evaluate skating, judgment, and comportment. If they exceed in those three areas, we put them into a program.”

Getting noticed is the hardest part, Hall said. “Essentially, you have to be the equivalent of the number one draft choice at the BCHL level, then again at the WHL level, then you have to prove it again at the AHL level,” Hall said.

Knorr is an ex-junior player with the Victoria Cougars. Officials don’t need to have junior playing experience to advance but it helps, Bob Hall said. “It helps to have played the game and to have the skating. But we really look for a ref who manages a fast-paced, aggressive game with control.”