Brian Fisher, a Level 4 referee with tens of thousands of games of officiating experience since 1996, has been named the new IHOA President.
Fisher, 39, who lives in Oswego and works as a claims manager for Intren, LLC, officiates about 250 games annually, mostly high school, midget and college club, with a few USPHL Junior League games mixed in, too. He mostly works at the rinks in the western suburbs, such as the All Seasons Ice Rink in Naperville, Canlan Sports in Romeoville, Fox Valley Ice Arena in Geneva, Seven Bridges Ice Arena in Woodridge and Arctic Ice Arena in Orland
“I am looking forward to leading the organization forward,” Fisher said. “IHOA is in a good position. We have had some leadership changes on the board with a push for younger people taking on new more prominent leadership roles. We are looking to continue the high bar that has been set for training new and retuning officials while (also) looking for new ways to teach, train and communicate with our membership.”
In the past three seasons, IHOA has had six officials selected to the USA Hockey Futures Camp. Last season, IHOA had 12 officials work national championship tournaments and 5 officials worked national championship games. “Our mentoring, coaching and development has seen great success for the participants who have been involved in these programs,” Fisher said.
Fisher, a married father of two (daughter Lily, 10; and son Carter, 5), is a Chicago area native. He grew up in Cicero and moved to Naperville when he was 10. Fisher graduated from Naperville North High School and then Eastern Illinois University.
He started officiating at age 12 after his dad saw an IHOA poster advertising a seminar. His dad said his son was going to the seminar.
“I’ve always enjoyed (officiating) and haven’t stopped,” Fisher said.
His first-ever game was a mite house league game at Seven Bridges when the Sabres skated there and the facility had the third rink in the middle which is now the Team Illinois locker rooms.
“When I was young, I did a good amount of games but then during high school and college due to time constraints I didn’t do very many games. After college, I started doing a lot more and since then it has just become part of my schedule like any part-time (job).”
Fisher has built an impressive resume over the past two decades, including the 2015 Illinois High School Hockey State Championship Game at the United Center, when Glenbrook North defeated Benet for the title in the first state final game featuring the four-official system. He also has officiated:
“My on-ice experience and years in the insurance industry have made me pretty decent at conflict resolution, problem solving and the ability to think outside the box,” Fisher said. “My officiating goals are to continue working games and passing along as much hockey and officiating knowledge as I can. At the end of the day, I want to be an official who other officials enjoy working with and coaches and players don’t mind seeing on their games.”
About 23,000 games will be played in the Chicagoland area this upcoming season. Fisher and everyone associated with IHOA is working to grow the base of area officials. Communication is key.
“IHOA can do a better job communicating with its membership and we have some ideas to try this year that we think can improve that,” Fisher said. “Officials are stressed and working many games. It would be nice if we all had the ability to work fewer games and stay fresh, but that’s just not reality right now with the number of games (played).”
Last season, IHOA had 1,378 registered officials.
The IHOA goal for the 2023-24 season is to completely register and train 1,450 officials.
“I think we have done a good job registering officials between the ages of 12-18. We had almost 700 officials under the age of 18 last year,” Fisher said. “Our challenge is the same as every other sport, how do we get those young people to continue to officiate while they are in college and starting out in their careers and then starting family; officiating gets lost in that shuffle. We have some programs in place to try to get the young officials more involved and work higher level games than they would typically work at a young age, but there are opportunities to give younger officials even more opportunities.
“One of the great things about officiating is that you can set your own hours and make decent money. There are so many ways people can earn an extra income (when they want to). We are now competing with Uber, Lyft, Uber Eats, Instacart and other apps in the gig economy. As a hockey community, we need to figure out a way to make officiating a more attractive option for people who want to make some extra money and stay involved in the sport.”
Last season, there was an overall increase in game fees paid to officials.
The registration fees this upcoming season for USA Hockey will have a slight increase, yet the IHOA fees will remain the same as the past few seasons.
Level 1 seminars will have a virtual and in-person aspect to complete. The Level 2, 3 and 4 seminars will be completely virtual.
“IHOA has some of the best officials in the county and I expect that to continue in the years to come,” Fisher said. “Attending the annual seminars (and) some of the ADP (mechanics that I was taught) have helped me, and just working with and observing other officials has made me a better official.”
Fisher praised numerous IHOA officials who have helped his career in black and white stripes, including John Cerza, Russ Rau, Mike Plesek, Larry Swakon and Brad Baumruck. “I learned so much just watching how they interact with coaches and players, how they manage a game; everything always seemed to go smooth when they were on the ice,” Fisher said. “My favorite part of officiating is being at the rink and the camaraderie that comes with it. The worst part of officiating is the time away from my family.”
Registration for officials for the 2023-24 season opened on July 1st.
For more information on becoming an official, go to www.ihoa.com.
Fisher encourages all to try officiating.
“It’s different than being on the bench as a coach, on the ice as a player, or in the stands as a spectator,” he said. “I still get that adrenaline rush (while officiating) like I did when I played.”
Fisher added: “Remember, youth hockey is a game and the two most important things are safety and just having fun. The players, coaches, parents and administrators all have a role to play. I’m not aware of anyone who has ever played, coached or officiated a perfect game. Everyone involved in the game is always learning and trying to improve, so I (hope) everyone remembers we are all human and trying our best. During the game we might be on different teams, but, at the end of the day, we should all be striving to make the game better and be a good steward of the game.”