After officiating about 200 games last season of mostly AAA, CSDHL and local high school, Anthony Baffi had a busy summer, working to improve his officiating.
It started in Bowling Green, Ohio, when the 20-year-old Baffi participated in the USA Hockey Men’s Central Futures Camp. Then it was on to Ames, Iowa, for the USA Hockey Central District Development Camp. Finally, he traveled to Buffalo, N.Y., for the Advanced Officiating Development Program.
“Some of the things I learned from the camps is to remember the minor details and to have fun (officiating),” Baffi said. “We are lucky to meet lifelong friends from events like these and if you are not enjoying what you are doing, then there is no reason to (officiate).
“I had conversations with many supervisors who had a common theme: I skate like a hockey player. While playing the game helps me, it is not the same thing (for officials). I was utilizing stops and starts when I did not need to and skated very uptight. One instructor told me that whenever I feel my fingertips touch while skating it should be a reminder to relax. Since, I have noticed my skating flows much better and allows me to skate at a higher intensity for a longer time.”
Baffi, who lives in Palos Heights, is a 2021 graduate of Alan B. Shepard High School. He is now a senior at Roosevelt University, studying finance and statistics. He skates for Roosevelt’s ACHA D2 team and played for the co-op Cobras while in high school, where he was the team captain his senior year. Baffi played most of his youth hockey for the St. Jude Knights.
He is in his seventh season as a hockey official, a top-tiered Level 4 referee.
Baffi is a regular officiating games at the Arctic Ice Arena in Orland Park and at Fifth Third Arena in Chicago, among other venues.
His career has included working the 14U National Tournament in Chicago during the 2021-22 season and the Central District Championships last year.
This season, he hopes to work in the NA3HL, USPHL and potentially some NAHL action. “I also would love the opportunity to work another national tournament. I plan to see how far I can go,” as an official, he said.
“IHOA has helped me as an official by pushing me. There have been times when I received a game confirmation for a level that I did not think I would be ready for, but I did it anyway. This has given me the confidence that IHOA has my back and believes in me. I have been given countless supervisions where members of IHOA have reciprocated feedback, noting what I had done well on, but more importantly, what I need to improve on. The best part is that this can happen so many more times to make myself the best official possible.”
Baffi praised numerous area officials for helping improve his work, including Sean Pondelicek, “who has been a huge part of my growth as an official,” Baffi said. “We went to all three officiating camps together, and knowing someone there eases you in. Giving each other feedback in a brutally honest way is one of the things I like most about Sean. There is no sugarcoating. If I messed up, he would tell me.” Baffi also noted assistance he’s long received from Dave Canon. “If I have a question, I do not hesitate to ask and he somehow always has an answer. He is a veteran (official) who is looking out for me,” Baffi said.
Baffi’s journey into officiating started as a way to be further involved in the game and he was following the black and white striped path that his father also skated while growing up.
“My first game (as an official) was a scrimmage for my little brother’s team at Arctic. I was with one of my hockey friends who was planning on being a ref; it was his first game as well. The opposing coach lost his cool … my partner never officiated another game,” Baffi said. “I did not always see myself officiating at this level. I never thought I could go as far as I have. But I have taken it one step at a time and it feels like I blinked my eyes and am at where I am in my career.
“My first year (as an official), I did not do many games. I was 13 and obviously did not (drive). I am beyond grateful for the countless early mornings when my parents sat in the stands and watched me officiate.”
Baffi said the best part of officiating remains the ability to be involved in the game. “Playing careers do not last forever, but you can officiate for much longer,” he said. “Seeing some of the most talented players in the nation is something to watch as well. I have the best seat in the house to watch these players put on an amazing display.”
But the worst part of officiating is that mistakes are amplified and officials have nowhere to hide, he said. “One player can hide behind a team and make mistakes throughout the game, but when officials make mistakes, they can be noticed and cause commotion.”
Still, he cherishes the role and responsibility as an on-ice official – and encourages others to try it too, especially the younger generation.
“Keep playing; do not step away from playing the game to officiate. Enjoy the years you have to play and ref when you can. It will always be there when you are done; you can be a successful player and official at the same time,” he said.
“I hope to take action in the future (to help find) solutions for the low retention rate of first-year officials. I hope to find a way to bring first-year officials back for their second year. I want to determine specifically why younger officials leave as often as they do and do what’s needed to fix that (problem). IHOA has helped me give back to the younger officials. I am a part of the mentor program and my little brother has taken up officiating with a group of his friends as well. I help his friends whenever I can and mentor them for scrimmage games if needed.”