SURREY — Mexico City doesn’t sound like much of a hockey hotbed, but Mike Campbell is optimistic about the quality of play he’ll see there next month.
The Surrey hockey referee has been assigned to work the 2016 IIHF U20 Division III World Championship, a tournament in January that will include the top teen players of Mexico, Bulgaria, Iceland, Israel, New Zealand, South Africa and Turkey.
“It’ll be cool to see the different teams at this tournament, for sure, and how they play,” Campbell told the Now.
“I’m sure it’ll be high-calibre hockey, even though it’s not the typical powerhouses involved.”
Campbell and fellow Surrey product Nathan Van Oosten, a linesman, are among 20 Canadians assigned to officiate tournaments staged by the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) this season. All 20 of the officials are products of the Hockey Canada Officiating Program.
Both Campbell and Van Oosten work games played by Western Hockey League (WHL) teams and also have previous experience working internationally.
Last February, they found themselves together in Grenada, Spain, for the World University Games, and both earned the plum assignment of calling the final game of the two-week tournament.
“It was really exciting for me,” enthused Campbell, 26, “because it was my first taste of international hockey, and it was great going to a different country, a different continent, seeing a different level of hockey.”
A year earlier, Van Oosten scored work at a U20 Division 1 tourney in Dumfries, Scotland. This coming April, he’ll be off to Grand Forks, North Dakota, for the World U18 Championships along with referee Jeff Ingram, a Langley resident who shares hockey roots in Surrey.
During the WHL season, 10-year veteran Van Oosten works anywhere from five to eight games a month in places like Portland, Prince George and, much closer to home, Vancouver.
“Being a linesman has been my focus since my last couple of years of doing minor hockey,” explained Van Oosten, 32. “Basically, around junior hockey is when you make that decision, choose that path. For me, (being a linesman) is a good fit. I enjoy the interaction with the players, because we have a bit of a different relationship with them than the refs, who have a different level of authority.”
As a ref, Campbell travels as far as Brandon, Manitoba, to work WHL games.
“Linesmen tend to work games more regionally,” Van Oosten noted.
Holding a whistle at international tournaments is another step in their officiating careers, which for both started at age 12.
“Anything where you get to represent your country is huge, a real honour,” said Campbell, who, in his time away from the ice, runs the e-commerce website for The Hockey Shop in Whalley.
Also for both, the ultimate goal is to get to the NHL, not surprisingly.
“It’s kind of the same thing as with the players, you just have to be the number-one guy,” Van Oosten said. “I’ve been fortunate enough to be in the mix, and I worked the American Hockey League in Abbotsford when it was there, for four seasons, but it didn’t work out.
“But at the same time,” he continued, “the international tournaments are more than I could ask for, a great thing. The NHL is a goal, for sure, but if it doesn’t work out, I do love the Western Hockey League and doing those games. It keeps me busy.”
Campbell echoed Van Oosten’s comments.
“It’s a goal of mine to get to the NHL, for sure, and that’s the path I’m trying to create for myself,” he said. “It’s just about grinding it out a little bit and working my way up the rankings. There’s tons of competition in officiating and it’s only getting stiffer. (Hockey officials) are always getting better, more athletic and stronger on the ice, and it’s getting harder and harder to get jobs in pro hockey. Hopefully one day I get there.”