Sean Pondelicek was officiating his first-ever game, a mite contest with the Bulldogs against the Bruins in 2019 at Heartland Ice Arena in Lincolnwood.
Game details, including who won and who lost, are now a blur, but Pondelicek recalls being very nervous, hesitant to blow his whistle and scared to call a penalty.
He re-gained his confidence after his first call and set a path for, now, four successful years in his black and white striped jersey.
Pondelicek was playing in a game afterwards, so his dad told him to hurry up.
“My partner asked my dad if he had an issue with me. My dad told him that I was his son. That showed me that other officials had my back. That made me and my parents more comfortable,” Pondelicek said.
Pondelicek, now 18, lives in Westchester and was a first-year varsity player this season for Fenwick, where he was the team’s alternate captain.
Pondelicek recalls getting yelled at and his lack of confidence as a first-year official. “I became more relaxed and confident in my calls as I (worked) more and more games and had veteran referees help me out.
“In my second-year officiating, that’s when I really enjoyed it and started working a lot more games.
“Officiating helped me learn the rules a lot better and made me realize I really did not know the rules before. Since my coach knew I was a ref, if there was a call that needed an explanation, he would send me over to talk with the referee since I could relate to them. I
gained more respect for the officials because I now understood what a tough job it is.
“As a player, I know the game is fast-moving and it only takes one wrong move for things to get out of hand. So, as a referee, I try to stay conscious of this and do my best to manage the game and keep things calm.”
Pondelicek went to the USA Hockey Central District Camp last summer and this season he officiated multiple state championship games: the girls’ 14U and the girls’ 16U. In 2022, he worked a bantam state final and also has officiated American Hearing Impaired Hockey Association (AHIHA) games.
“Sean brings strong skating ability to the officiating side of the game and he soaks up knowledge with partners he works with,” said IHOA referee-in-chief Brad Baumruck.
Pondelicek said the Central District Camp was when and where he realized that officiating “is something I could see myself pursuing in the future.”
Pondelicek skated for the Chicago Fury and Chicago Blues before landing at Fenwick. His playing career has included a state runner-up award as a bantam major in 2020 and a peewee major state championship.
A Level 4 official, Pondelicek worked about 100 games this season, mostly bantam and high school.
“Being able to pick my own schedule (as an official), work as much or as little as I wanted, was perfect. I love being on the ice, so getting paid to skate around (is) awesome,” Pondelicek said.
Calling Offsides …. With Official Sean Pondelicek
Officiating the Girls’ 14U State Championship Game: “It was a fun, intense game, a back-and-forth game. The final score was 2-0, with the Hawks winning over St. Jude.”
IHOA Help: “They have a zoom meeting once a month to go over officiating topics and give us an opportunity to ask questions or talk about situations that happened in our games.”
Helpful Officials: “All referees who I have worked with have been very helpful and supportive, particularly Brad Baumruck.”
Best Part of Officiating: “Being able to stay involved in the game I have played my entire life. It is great exercise and I have to admit, the money is pretty good, too.”
Worst Part of Officiating: “It doesn’t happen often, but the abuse from parents and coaches. I have learned to block it out, though.”
For Fellow Teens Who Are Thinking About Officiating: “Do it. It is a lot of fun and a good way to stay involved in the game after you are done playing, or while you are playing.”