By Julie Pelchar
Perhaps the attribute most essential to any sports official’s sanity is thick skin.
There’s no question Aaron Lundbohm has it.
“I love getting booed,” Lundbohm deadpanned. “I love getting yelled at. I’ve been yelled at my whole life.”
The answer from the charismatic Lundbohm, an East Coast Hockey League linesman who moved to Reading last May, sounds flip, and one would definitely question this man’s seriousness when he says his pre-game ritual involves taking a pinch of Skoal (mint) and parading his autographs from Test, a WWE wrestler.
But when it comes to his job performance he’s as serious as a minor league player who has his sights set on reaching the big time.
And he’s got the same goal.
Lundbohm, 25, has been climbing the hockey officiating ladder for the past few years in hopes of reaching the NHL.
After playing one season at the University of Minnesota-Crookston, Lundbohm returned to his hometown of Roseau, Minn., a tiny, three-rink hockey community on the Canadian border, to begin his career.
The 6-4, 220-pounder said he chose doing lines over refereeing because of his size. Linesmen do more physical work such as breaking up fights.
“I didn’t want to take a referee job from a little guy,” he said with a laugh.
Lundbohm started working mite and high school games and quickly found a gig in the Midwest, which consisted mostly of junior games along with a few nights in pro leagues such as the United Hockey League and the defunct International Hockey League.
It was in the UHL where Lundbohm learned a invaluable trick while trying to break up a fight.
“The guys wouldn’t stop,” Lundbohm said. “I was down on the ice, and I got my hand stepped on. I could see the bone in my fingers.
“I didn’t really know what to do looking at the bone in my hand, and the guys were still fighting. So I said, ‘Hey, look at this!’ They instantly stopped and were grossed out.”
Lundbohm took the trick with him to Baton Rouge in 2000 to start work in the ECHL. Two years later, he relocated to Reading, per the suggestion of league officials.
“One of the reasons we elected to lead him toward Reading was so that he could work American Hockey League and ECHL games and get greater exposure to the triple-A game,” said Bryan Graham, the league’s vice president of hockey operations who’s also in charge of officials.
As an added bonus, the move has cut down on Lundbohm’s travel time. After putting 40,000 miles on his car last season, when he was living in Pensacola, Lundbohm’s longest trips this year are the occasional treks to Johnstown and Roanoke.
Lundbohm, who was one of 28 officials to attend the NHL Officiating Prospects Camp in Ontario last summer, said he’s worked 25 AHL games, mainly in Hershey, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, Philadelphia and Binghamton. He expects he’ll officiate about 110 total games this year, including playoffs.
According to Graham, the ECHL has 25 full-time officials such as Lundbohm who average 75 to 90 regular-season games. The league also uses 110 part-timers. But it’s the full-timers like Lundbohm who have dreams of joining the dozen or so ECHL graduates who are officiating in the NHL.
The league pushes such promotion, just as most ECHL coaches oblige call-ups for their players.
“Because of a call-up or an injury in the AHL, they might need Aaron one night,” Graham said. “I’ll try to free him up for that assignment. We would never try to hold him back from an AHL assignment.”
Lundbohm said increasing his awareness will help him get to that next level. “I’ve heard guys say everyone can call icing and offside,” he said. “It’s the little things that distinguish good linesmen from great linesmen.
“And being a former player helps you to understand a player’s mentality versus a guy that doesn’t really know and calls it the way it’s described in a rule book.”
When he’s not polishing those skills, Lundbohm can be found on the golf course or at home watching the NHL on TV.
In addition to officiating four or five games a week, he works two days at Flying Hills Golf Course, either tending to the shop or doing tree work during the hockey season.
He mows greens during the summer, when he said he also tries to get as many strokes as he can playing against buddy Byron Whitman, a local amateur golf champion.
Lundbohm doesn’t plan on becoming too comfortable with the nomadic lifestyle that goes hand-in-hand with officiating.
“I think I’m right on schedule,” Lundbohm said. “I gave myself a time frame to be in the Coast for two seasons and then work in the AHL. It’s happened.
“I’ll give myself about four more years at this, and if nothing pans out then I’m done.”
It’s been quite a trip so far.