There’s one team in the ECHL that is unlike any other. Its roster carries over 100 men. The lines change every night. With the exception of a pre-season training camp, the squad never practices as a whole unit. And it’s safe to say the amount of cheers they receive pales in comparison to any other team throughout the league.
But to the men who work as ECHL officials, the values of team, hard work, and professionalism are just as important to them as any lineup in the league. Equally as important is the opportunity to use their role in the game to help give back to the greater good. There may be no point during the season that this is clearer than during the ECHL Officials annual donation drive during the month of November.
This was the sixth season in which ECHL Officials have collected donations at this point of the season. Just like some of your favorite professional hockey players, the gentlemen competed to see who could grow the most impressive facial hair, and who could raise the most funds towards the collective cause. The fundraising efforts are typically spearheaded by a veteran on the staff – this year, that was Stephen Thomson, a referee from Canandaigua, NY, in his third season with the ECHL.
“As a team, we feel it’s important to give back because of the opportunity we have been given being a part of the game we love, and for most of us, a career. We are a tight-knit group who care about each other. Most everyone on our team has been affected by some sort of illness or cancer in their lives and it’s nice to be able to be in a position to help,” Thomson told ECHL.com.
In past years, the group has circulated a GoFundMe link amongst themselves which spurred the fundraising. This year they also tried to get businesses involved– an effort which paid off with participation from several, and the highest total funds raised to date in the six years of the efforts.
The goal is the same year over year – work together as a team to help raise funds for those who need it. The group works collectively to determine the recipients on an annual basis. This year, the group decided to support two efforts with the funds raised. One donation was made to a former ECHL official currently in a battle with cancer.
The second donation was made to the Community Health Network Foundation, a hospital in Indianapolis which works closely with the Indy Fuel. By making the latter donation to an entity in Indianapolis, where the 2018 CCM/ECHL All-Star Classic took place, it allowed those officials working the game to make the donation in person. On January 14, Thomson, along with linesmen Jake Davis and Jordan Knox, and ECHL Manager of Officiating Mike Pearce, visited the hospital to present their donation in person. Though an influenza breakout prevented the gentlemen from interacting with any of the children’s patients at CHNF, the specific department they wished for their donation to benefit, the significance of their efforts was not lost on them.
“For me personally there is no better feeling,” Thomson shared. “We are in a position to help these children and one of our own. As a team we feel that this donation, albeit small, will make a difference in a lot of lives.”