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Local on-ice official Ibrahim Arifi skates AHL games and local high school action, too

By Ross Forman, 11/20/23, 8:00AM CST


When Ibrahim Arifi stepped on the ice last October at the Allstate Arena for a Chicago Wolves home game against rival Milwaukee, it was quite a memorable and emotional moment, particularly for his mom, Senija.

His sister, Hamine, later showed him a video of his first lap before that American Hockey League (AHL) game – and Senija was crying.

This was her son’s first AHL game as an on-ice official, and the memory still rings loudly for the local hockey standout who attended Maine East High School and is now a junior at DePaul University.

“Enjoy giving back to the game, always give it your best because someone is always watching and remember the people who helped you from the start and how they impacted your career,” Arifi said when asked about advice he’d give to other area officials.

Now 21, Arifi started skating for the Niles Rangers at age 5, then moved to the Glenview Stars and eventually the Falcons. He was the third overall pick (first round) by the Peoria Mustangs in the 2020 NA3HL Draft and he played one season on defense for the Mustangs.

Arifi’s playing career included state championships at U16 and U18. He also was named to the NA3HL All-Rookie Team and a Top Prospect Player.

But his future on ice is in black and white stripes, not any team’s colorful jersey.

Arifi registered as an official for the first time in December 2019, but only worked five games that season. He didn’t return to officiating until after his season with Peoria in the spring of 2021.

“My friend Max Lieberman told me about (officiating), how it’d give me extra time on the ice to improve my skating and I’d get paid for it,” said Arifi, whose first-ever game as an official was a peewee battle in Winnetka. “I thought it was going to be a walk in the park, but I was very wrong as I (was) out of position each whistle.”

Arifi, though, was a quick learner and his lightning-fast skating certainly has aided his officiating run.

Arifi is now in his second season in the American Hockey League and attended the NHL Officiating Combine and officiated the NHL Prospects Tournament in Buffalo, N.Y. this past August. He also this season is skating games in NCAA Division III (NCHA) and local high school action.

“Once I began receiving more opportunities to work higher level hockey and creating bonds with the officials,” that’s what the officiating gig really took off, he said.

“(Last) season was a big step for my career and opened options that hockey may be something I pursue and that every game matters, no matter what level of hockey it is.”

Arifi said his playing past has helped his officiating: “It allowed me to understand players’ emotions and develop my own standard and what really affects play. It also gave me the conditioning and edge work to be an effective skater,” he said.

“IHOA has helped me tremendously in my first season, allowing me to work higher level games, including midget and high school. That helped me build confidence early on in my officiating career.”

Arifi noted many IHOA officials who have been influential on the growth of his officiating career, such as:

  • Max Lieberman: “He introduced me to officiating and is always fun to work with.”
  • Michael Verdonck: “He has always been there for any questions and was a huge help when I was given the opportunity to work in the AHL.”
  • Brad Baumruck and Brett Straley: “They always helped me move up in youth hockey, gave me many great opportunities and helped me grow.”
  • Billy Hancock: “His mentorship in the beginning of my career was priceless. Plus, he connected me with many others and gave me tips on the ice.”