VIRGINIA — A 2011 graduate of Eveleth-Gilbert High School, Kaylen Erchul never imagined what was in store for her after she began reffing hockey in her last year of high school.
Now, eight years into the business, Erchul has quite an impressive resume. From preparing for her fourth state hockey tournament, to reffing in the 2018 Women’s World Championships in Maribor, Slovenia, and reffing in the 2019 Women’s U18 World Championship in Obihiro, Japan, just a few weeks ago.
Now back stateside, Erchul reflected on the journey that took her from reffing mites and squirts to officiating world championships all over the globe.
“At first it was just something to make money,” Erchul said. “It was neat being in high school to go out on the ice and see the little kids skate and have fun and make a little
bit of money on the side.”
Erchul — a hockey player herself — was able to make her reffing schedule work with her schooling and athletics and even made it work throughout college.
”I’d do a couple games on Sunday. I’d make it work with hockey and then eventually when I started school at St. Scholastica, I picked up reffing again and took it a bit more seriously.”
At the encouragement of her close friend and fellow hockey referee Jace Friedlieb, Erchul became more committed to reffing and was able to use it as a means for paying for her college tuition.
“Being able to do that and take out less student loans is a big difference. You can pay for a lot of things by just doing a weekend of eight or nine games. You’re considered an independent contractor so you get to pick the games you want and the hours you work.”
Friedlieb continued to encourage Erchul to do even more with reffing, eventually leading her to seek out reffing camps that would further her skills and provide greater opportunities to officiate.
“When I took it more seriously, I figured I would be a good fit. I know what hockey looks like, I know all of the calls. It got to the point where I just enjoyed being at the rink even though I wasn’t playing anymore. Then I saw USA Hockey offered a women’s camp and that’s how everything sort of got rolling.”
Recognized by the Minnesota State High School League, Erchul fondly remembers what it was like to be selected to officiate the girls’ state tournament for the first time in 2016.
“I got the email and instantly I went ‘you gotta be kidding me.’ As a player who went to the state tournament twice in high school and seeing how cool of an experience it was, being able to go back as a ref and do something like that and be back on that ice again is great.
“It was a totally different atmosphere but at the same time you get to enjoy that high level, intense atmosphere that the players feel. Being able to ref these kids at their own state tournament is an unbelievable feeling.”
As she became more committed to officiating the game she loved, she took on even greater opportunities, such as the chance to officiate in international level events for the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF).
“I went out to a camp in Lake Placid (N.Y.) and they had us work scrimmages and intersquad matches with the U18 and U20 U.S. National Teams. At that camp, you’d find out if you were going to be international licensed. Once I was licensed, you just waited your turn for an opportunity to come up.”
Erchul’s first big job took her to the 2018 Women’s World Championships in Maribor, Slovenia.
“I remember getting the news I was going to Slovenia and I’m again so excited but then I had to ask, ‘but where’s Slovenia?’ I had no clue where I was even going but I knew that this was such an awesome opportunity. I had never traveled further than Mexico or Canada at this point so being able to go to these amazing places all thanks to hockey is such a cool experience.”
Most recently, Erchul refereed at the IIHF World Women’s U18 Championships in Obihiro, Japan, and she’s ready to gear up for her next state tournament in February.
On reffing itself, Erchul says even though she’s no longer playing the game itself, the feelings she gets when she’s prepping for a big game feel very similar to her playing days.
“I still get nervous for a lot of big games. If I didn’t get those nerves, I don’t know where I’d be. It’s good to be that kind of excited nervous. You want to be comfortable but it shows that you’re invested in it and you have a desire to be out there. It’s Submitted
2011 Eveleth-Gilbert graduate Kaylen Erchul is pictured in Obihiro, Japan, where she recently officated games at the 2019 IIHF World Women’s U18 Ice Hockey Championships.
a good feeling.”
Passionate and excited to continue her reffing career, Erchul wants to encourage anyone with an interest in officiating to give it a shot as new referees are always needed.
“I would just tell them to give it a shot. You know, maybe it’s just making $20 a game reffing squirts or mites at first but if you love the game of hockey, you’re going to be drawn back on to the ice after your playing days are over.
“Reffing is a great way to stay involved with the game and see it at a whole different level. It’s just really rewarding. Seeing those kids out there doing what you used to do and watching them learn about the game is so fun and exciting.”