Norris Winner Excels in Valuable Roles

April 19, 2017

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

The first thing Michael Gentry did after showing up for a freshman/junior varsity football doubleheader was pull out a new white hat, presenting it to a young official working as the referee for the first time – the first act of encouragement that eased the up-and-comer’s anxiety throughout the game.

Another former pupil wrote of how, no matter if a game was five minutes or 50 from his mentor’s house, Gentry always was there – and a list of observations and pointers would be under that young official’s windshield wipers when he arrived at his car to go home.

Gentry always has made it a priority to help young officials realize their potential, wrote another, often giving those eager to learn places on his crew.  

“To this day, I derive more pleasure from passing on what I know and helping people take advantage of the resources that are there for them nowadays,” Gentry said. “I had dinner with one of (the officials I mentored) … and he told me he still has the pen-and-paper evaluations I did and still reviews them to this day, and that just stuns me. I never realized the impact you can have on fledgling officials.”

That impact, along with his continued success as one of Michigan’s top high school officials in a variety of sports, has earned Gentry the MHSAA’s Vern L. Norris Award for 2017.  

The Norris Award is presented annually to a veteran official who has been active in a local officials association, has mentored other officials, and has been involved in officials’ education. It is named for Vern L. Norris, who served as executive director of the MHSAA from 1978-86 and was well-respected by officials on the state and national levels.

Gentry will be honored at the Officials’ Awards & Alumni Banquet on May 6 at Eagle Eye Golf Club in East Lansing. He is in his 38th year as an MHSAA-registered official, this school year for football, basketball and baseball, and has worked MHSAA Finals in four tournaments (boys and girls basketball separately) and 10 championship games total during his tenure serving Michigan’s high school athletes.

A member of the Metro Detroit Officials Association, Gentry has officiated MHSAA Finals in baseball (1992, 1999, 2003, 2010), football (1994, 2005, 2010, 2016), boys basketball (2008) and girls basketball (2013) and most recently the Division 4 Football Final on Nov. 25 between Grand Rapids Catholic Central and Detroit Country Day at Ford Field.

He’s also mentored or assisted in guiding a number of young officials from his community over the years and frequently served as a presenter and clinician at local and MHSAA clinics and officials meetings.

“Michael Gentry’s work encompasses all that is recognized by the Vern L. Norris Award,” MHSAA Executive Director John E. “Jack” Roberts said. “He’s at the top of his game on the field. But his contributions off the field recruiting and mentoring young officials are just as significant. Ask those who have had an opportunity to receive his guidance, and they’ll describe him as selfless, dedicated and truly invested in building up the next generation.”

Gentry initially hoped to stay in athletics as a coach after graduating from Harper Woods Notre Dame High School in 1971. He had played basketball as a freshman in high school and also as part of Detroit’s Catholic Youth Organization athletic program growing up, and he had coached CYO teams for nearly a decade when one of his players’ parents who also served as a local referee suggested Gentry give officiating a try.

He first registered as an MHSAA official for the 1978-79 school year and was mentored early on by Detroit’s Ted Wilson, the eventual first recipient of the Norris Award in 1992.

“He was very instrumental in getting me games, higher profile games, games when I started out at the junior high level, and really forging a path for me,” Gentry said. “As a matter of fact, the first Regional in basketball I worked was with Ted, and although I don’t know it for a fact, I’m pretty darn sure he was the reason I was on that game with him.”

Following Wilson’s lead, Gentry took an interest in not just officiating, but teaching others how to do so. His current football crew includes six officials he helped mentor, including three who are 25 or younger. 

A number of officials who have been mentored by Gentry and the Macomb association have gone on to work not just high-level high school games, but at the college level. One of them, Nick Meyer, now officiates in the National Basketball Association’s D-League.

Gentry, who also has officiated at the Division III college level, took classes at Macomb Community College and Wayne State University after high school before taking a fulltime job at General Motors. For the last 20 years he has worked for Carmela Specialty Foods in Clinton Township, currently as the chief operating officer of the wine division. 

While that role has come with more responsibility, his fulltime bosses have been supportive of his officiating avocation – and Gentry plans to keep on as long as he’s able.

“It’s a question I ask myself all the time – why do I love it – and basically, it’s like an addiction,” Gentry said. “When the season is over, I get near depression; I just wait for the next season to start. I don’t know what it is. Part of it is the job and doing it well as an individual, and getting together with other people as a unit and doing a good job. There’s satisfaction in that.

“As a football crew we joke, when we hear coaches say, ‘Here comes Gentry’s crew,’ we take that as a good sign. They realize they’re not getting away with anything.”

Gentry was inducted into the Detroit Catholic High School League Hall of Fame in 1996. He also is a dedicated contributor to his parish community at St. Isidore Church in Macomb.

Previous recipients of the Norris Award

1992 – Ted Wilson, East Detroit
1993 – Fred Briggs, Burton
1994 – Joe Brodie, Flat Rock
1995 – Jim Massar, Flint
1996 – Jim Lamoreaux, St. Ignace
1997 – Ken Myllyla, Escanaba
1998 – Blake Hagman, Kalamazoo
1999 – Richard Kalahar, Jackson
2000 – Barb Beckett, Traverse City; Karl Newingham, Bay City
2001 – Herb Lipschultz, Kalamazoo
2002 – Robert Scholie, Hancock
2003 – Ron Nagy, Hazel Park
2004 – Carl Van Heck, Grand Rapids
2005 – Bruce Moss, Alma
2006 – Jeanne Skinner, Grand Rapids
2007 – Terry Wakeley, Grayling
2008 – Will Lynch, Honor
2009 – James Danhoff, Richland
2010 – John Juday, Sr., Petoskey
2011 – Robert Williams, Redford
2012 – Lyle Berry, Rockford
2013 – Tom Minter, Okemos
2014 – Hugh R. Jewell, West Bloomfield
2015 – Sam Davis, Lansing
2016 – Linda Hoover, Marshall

High school game officials with 20, 30, 40, 45 and 50 years of service also will be honored at the Officials’ Awards & Alumni Banquet on May 6.

Seventeen officials with 50 or more years of service will be honored, along with 26 officials with 45 years. A 40-year award will be presented to 68 officials. In addition, 97 officials with 30 years and 190 officials with 20 years of experience will be honored. With the induction of this year’s group of 398, the honor roll of officials who have aided young student-athletes grows to 10,595 since the inception of the banquet in 1980.

Tickets for the banquet are available to the public and priced at $20. They will not be sold at the door. Tickets can be ordered by calling the MHSAA office at (517) 332-5046 or by sending the order form. Deadline to order is April 27.

20, 30, 40, 45 & 50-YEAR OFFICIALS

The officials on this list will receive their 20, 30, 40, 45 or 50-year service awards at the 38th annual Officials’ Awards & Alumni Banquet on May 6 at Eagle Eye Golf Club in East Lansing.


Adrian - Bill Collins
Adrian - Paul D. Noce
Albion - Mary Ann Egnatuk
Allen - Christopher L. Adams
Allendale - Arnulfo S. Perez
Alma - Jillane S. McDonald-Sandro
Alma - Jennifer L. Shearer
Ann Arbor - David M. Siegle
Auburn Hills - Michael J. Rossi

Battle Creek - Jonathan E. Dolbee
Battle Creek - Dustin M. Fox
Battle Creek - Michael J. Whalen
Belleville - Keith J. Kennedy
Blissfield - Neil L. Heiden
Britton - Rex A. Forsyth
Bronson - Michael G. Sellers
Brownstown Township - Anthony J. Jesue
Byron Center - Michael S. Sturm

Canton - Bryan C. Earl
Canton - Michael F. Guzowski
Charlotte - James E. Hoyt
Chassell - Vickie L. Lobeck
Clare - Christopher T. Gibson
Clarkston - Darwin Conley
Clinton - Dan J. Jurasek
Clinton Township - Vincent J. Garofalo
Clio - David L. Prevost
Comstock Park - Sam Weatherwax
Constantine - William H. Wright
Coopersville - Ben Hondorp

Davison - Steven K. Barbeau
Dearborn - Kevin R. Wilkinson
Dearborn Heights - Julie A. Ader
Detroit - Sean L. Murphy
DeWitt - Patrick M. McDonnell
Dexter - David R. Steptoe

East China - Wayne D. Biscorner
East Jordan - Phyllis A. Olszewski
Essexville - Roland W. Swartout

Farmington - Dennis K. Miller
Farmington Hills - Ken R. Holzheimer
Farmington Hills - Kevin N. Short
Fenton - James M. Anderson
Flint - Ricky E. McQueary
Flint - John L. Perrine
Fountain - Sean R. Sutcliffe
Fowlerville - Nick Douglass
Fremont - Jan L. Burch

Garden City - Gregory Kozub
Gaylord - John B. Carrick
Gladstone - Russell W. Hall
Gladstone - Gerald E. Kulbertis
Grand Blanc - Brian S. Kita
Grand Blanc - Albert L. Mason
Grand Ledge - Timothy D. Marsh
Grand Rapids - Michael Hillary
Grand Rapids - Marc E. Miedema
Grand Rapids - Marc Van Maldegen
Greenville - Greg L. King
Grosse Pointe Farms - John B. Rucinski
Gwinn - Kevin V. Thomma

Hanover - James D. Hose
Harper Woods - April A. Martin
Hillsdale - Daniel C. Laws
Holland - Timothy H. Howell
Holland - Michael R. Jaeger
Holland - Ronald A. Kamper
Holland - Stephen L. Todd
Holly - Anthony G. Engelberg
Holt - Michael A. Dunlap
Holt - Daniel Grady
Howell - John B. Gendron
Howell - Dan W. Jeffery Jr.
Howell - Kyle N. Richardson
Hudsonville - Kevin D. Bayko

Indian River - Gary L. Campbell
Ironwood - Daniel M. Finco

Jackson - Jeff L. McDaniels
Jackson - Jason C. Smith
Jackson - Randy R. Straub
Jonesville - Brian P. Stroble

Kalamazoo - Steven J. Bradstreet
Kalamazoo - Julie A. Cain-Derouin
Kalamazoo - Christopher G. Caldwell
Kalamazoo - Robert N. Cole Sr.
Kalamazoo - Mike E. Daugherty
Kalamazoo - Douglas G. Davidson
Kentwood - Dave C. Rost
Kentwood - Craig S. Workman
Kimball - Scott L. DesJardin
Kingsford - Greg J. Hendricks
Kingston - Tammy S. Brzezinski

Lansing - Terry R. Bernath
Lansing - William F. Burmeister
Lansing - Dawn M. Carson
Lansing - Nichole M. Fisher
Lapeer - James R. Farrand
LaSalle - Donald L. Jones
Livonia - Krista Hobbins
Livonia - Michael E. Sensoli
Lowell - Barry Hobrla
Ludington - James D. Bowen Jr.
Ludington - Les W. Johnson
Ludington - John E. Shay
Ludington - Paul R. Spaniola

Macomb - Douglas A. Crenshaw
Macomb - Joseph T. Latorre
Macomb - Richard T. Paperd
Macomb - Jeffrey J. Zielinski
Madison Heights - Joseph F. Young
Marinette - Al D. Mathy
Marlette - Susanne M. Burton
Marshall - Randy L. Blum
Mattawan - Paul P. Eggers
Mattawan - Chuck Rawsthorne
McBain - Paul Shaarda
Middleville - Jeffrey J. Kenyon
Midland - William A. Larson
Milan - Gary A. Blackford
Milford - John M. Cecil
Milford - Norman Kawaelde
Millington - Byron W. Drew
Monroe - Kenneth J. Bausman
Monroe - Michael G. Gaynier
Monroe - Christopher M. Haut
Monroe - Mark E. Leach
Morenci - Ryan W. Kast
Muskegon - Jeffery A. Dunn
Muskegon - Brad A. Swain
Muskegon - Michael S. Taylor
Muskegon - Leonard T. Vargas

Nashville - Steven L. Hopkins II
New Boston - David J. Sichterman
Novi - Donald A. Fralick

Oak Park - Jason F. Haluscsak
Owosso - Frank D. Tew Jr.

Paw Paw - Chad M. Szymczak
Pinckney - Michael L. Rose
Pittsford - John T. Hoeft
Plymouth - Paul E. Woodard
Port Huron - Jesus E. Castillo Jr.

Ravenna - Ken J. Punter
Reading - Eugene L. Miller
Redford - Michael R. Jackson
Redford - Michael Ross
Richland - John P. Nadzam
Richland - Anthony J. Vanlerberghe
Richmond - Gary R. Niebauer
Riverview - William M. Ellington
Riverview - Dominic Frontera
Rochester Hills - Robert T. Bobbitt
Rogers City - Cory A. Davis
Romulus - Donald L. Hamilton
Roscommon - Rodney C. Patterson
Roscommon - Stephen M. Reinke
Roseville - Michael J. Iwasko
Royal Oak - Michael M. Beaulieu
Saginaw - Robert (Terry) DeLand
Saginaw - Guy A. Marcoux
Scotts - Ruben D. Rosalin
Shelby Township - Beth M. Karle
Shelby Twp - Cary A. Stearnes
Shepherd - Gerald F. DeVall
Spring Arbor - Erika L. Raffin
St Louis - Kurt W. Ballien
Sterling Heights - Steven A. Matthews
Sterling Hts - Darron E. Bell
Sturgis - Darrell D. Peugeot
Sunfield - Bruce L. Elliott
Swartz Creek - Scott M. Lovely

Taylor - Michael T. Sarandrea
Toledo - Gregory S. Shoffer
Traverse City - Billie D. Drake
Traverse City - Edward N. O'Brien
Traverse City - Alan J. Waisanen
Troy - Craig R. Smith

Unionville - Douglas E. Coon

Waterford - Laurence K. Campbell
Waterford - Matthew R. Tilley
Wauseon - Ken D. Baumgartner
Weidman - Timothy W. Todd
West Bloomfield - Gary Devine
West Bloomfield - Alain Moore
White Lake - Ryan T. Negoshian
Whitehall - Kurt J. Huizenga
Williamston - Daniel L. Grooms
Wixom - Michael P. Fischer
Wyoming - Frederick S. Adrian
Wyoming - Jeffrey M. Hudson

Zeeland - Derk D. Teusink


Ada - Mike Terwilliger
Allegan - John M. Bishop
Ann Arbor - Jon M. Keith

Battle Creek - Malcomb K. Crawford
Bay City - Mark A. Bauer
Bay City - Rollin P. Fawcett
Big Rapids - Jeffrey S. Jennings
Boardman - Lynette S. Angood
Brownstown Township - Peter J. Bean
Buchanan - Randy L. Bicard
Burton - Darrick J. Puffer
Byron - Gregory A. Finch
Byron Center - Marvin J. Heasley

Casco Township - John E. Ward
Cedarville - LeRoy J. Pieri
Clark Lake - Mark G. Snyder
Clawson - Richard O. Szalma
Constantine - Dale W. Wentela

Dearborn - Mike E. Unger
Dearborn Heights - Phil L. Shannon

Eaton Rapids - William DeFrance
Escanaba - Gary D. Buckley

Farwell - Douglas J. Haggart
Flint - Joe H. Wheeler
Flushing - Steven J. Berriman
Flushing - Clarence E. Turner
Frankenmuth - Joe Ricard
Frankfort - Michael R. Fought
Frederic - Randall L. Holecheck

Gaylord - Ralph L. Galbraith
Gibraltar - Brian F. Herman
Grand Blanc - Brian J. Parr
Grand Rapids - Sharon K. Dekleine
Grandville - Geoffrey R. Goodyear
Grayling - Robert G. Gingerich
Grosse Pointe Woods - Tom C. Elsey

Holland - Michael D. Bos

Ida - Gary M. Miller
Ithaca - James J. Wideman

Jenison - Thomas A. Kragt

Kalamazoo - Loren L. Heun
Kalamazoo - Charles E. Kinnane

Lake Isabella - Kevin L. Fountain
Lake Leelanau - Glenn E. Huntley
Lake Orion - Lyle G. Sanderson
Lansing - Ronald R. Smoker
Livonia - Michael Wynn

Marquette - Barry C. James
Mason - Clinton M. Chadwell
Midland - Steve V. Weiger
Millington - Timothy P. Walter
Muskegon - Michael R. Cribbs
Muskegon - Matthew E. Preston

Nashville - Michael P. Meade Sr.
Negaunee - Glen Nelson
New Boston - William D. Spiecker
Newaygo - Raymond R. Bauer
Newberry - Rob J. Depew

Olivet - Douglas A. Thering
Owosso - Scott A. Schooley
Owosso - Robert K. Stinson

Pickford - Gregory M. Ledy
Pigeon - Catherine J. Dayak
Plymouth - Mike A. Kavulich
Portage - John J. Creek
Portage - Gregg D. Langley
Portage - John M. VanElk

Reading - Brian J. Hinkley
Romulus - Bill J. Miller
Roseville - Darin M. Gilbert Sr.
Royal Oak - Thomas Eschmann

Saginaw - Carl D. Miller
Saginaw - David A. O'Dell
Saginaw - Calvin L. Robinson
Sault Ste Marie - Billy R. Norton
Sawyer - Scott A. Ponegalek
Scottville - Benjamin E. Nelson
Shelby Township - James F. Plutschuck
Spring Arbor - Brad L. Buter
St Ignace - Gary L. McDonald
Standish - Rod L. Russell

Three Rivers - Kevin R. Tavernier
Traverse City - Roger D. Heeres
Traverse City - John T. Irwin
Traverse City - James D. Szur
Traverse City - Curtis A. Wolf

Vicksburg - Warner C. Offord Jr.

Warren - Kenneth J. Kaschalk
Waterford - Gillie A. David
Wayland - Richard T. May
West Bloomfield - Sheldon G. Larky
West Bloomfield - Lamont Simpson
Westland - Terrence E. Madigan
Wyoming - Gary A. Kuipers
Wyoming - Thomas J. Oosterbaan
Wyoming - Alan D. Woodcox

Zeeland - Carey M. Strykowski


Adrian - Don C. Fry
Alma - Bruce M. Moss
Almont - Thomas H. Abraham

Battle Creek - Joseph L. Kurti
Belding - Robert A. Youngs
Benton Harbor - Eleanor V. Dorow
Bristol - David J. Blough
Brooklyn - Thomas W. Crampton
Brown City - Richard Lee
Burton - Rosalie A. Howell
Burton - Steven A. Johnson

Clinton Township - Stephen D. Stuckey
Clio - Dale E. Sneller

Davison - Douglas C. Dillon
Davison - Randy Hutton
Detroit - Patricia E. Jones
Detroit - Bertha M. Smiley
DeWitt - John C. Hoekje

Farmington Hills - John D. Scott
Fenton - Richard D. Massa
Frankenmuth - Dennis Krafft

Galesburg - Wayne C. Patterson
Gladstone - David P. Gagnon
Gowen - Lennda J. Brown
Grand Haven - David B. Parsons
Grand Rapids - Tommy Chambers

Hazel Park - Ronald R. Nagy
Highland - Deborah S. Heck

Imlay City - Jeff M. Weingartz
Ionia - Paul D. Carmichael
Iron Mountain - John J. Sacchetti
Iron Mountain - Doug A. Schupp
Ironwood - Jeff D. Haapoja

Jackson - Douglas J. VanArsdalen

Kalamazoo - Kirk G. Hart
Kalamazoo - Christine M. Juszczyk

Lambertville - Thomas C. Williams
Lansing - George D. Runciman
Lansing - Bryan L. Smith

Macomb - Dennis M. Steele
Mancelona - Robert W. Sanders
Manistee - Tom L. Guenthardt
Muskegon - Jeffery A. Burr

Negaunee - Philip M. DeGabriele
New Buffalo - Jack P. Kennedy
Northville - John M. Fundukian
Norton Shores - Richard L. Anderegg
Norton Shores - Jim Tate

Petersburg - Richard A. Ley
Plymouth - Thomas J. Poma
Port Huron - Ray S. Cornwell
Posen - Frank Wozniak

Rapid River - Jeffrey A. Schram

Saginaw - Charles S. Sherman
Saginaw - Suzanne R. Swanton
Saginaw - William Turner
Sebewaing - Paul K. Geiger
Shelby Township - Michael L. Hessen
St Clair - Garth E. Jones
St Clair Shores - Roy W. Vorhees
St Louis - Michael R. Allen
Sturgis - David R. Cherry

Trenton - Max Monas
Troy - Joseph E. Thilman
Troy - Dennis W. Wedell

Warren - Kenneth C. Baker
Warren - Larry R. Leeper
Williamston - Michael A. Nestell


Battle Creek - Charles M. Hobbs
Blissfield - Darrell W. Polter
Bloomingdale - Clyde Line
Brighton - Bruce D. Ritter

Colon - Lloyd D. Teller

Davison - Patrick J. McKenna

Farmington - Raymond A. Cranston
Fremont - Ronald E. Mousel

Grand Rapids - Michael J. Cronkright
Grand Rapids - Tom J. Essenburg
Grand Rapids - Bryan P. Lillis

Howell - James L. Downs

Iron Mountain - Kenneth E. Marchetti
Ithaca - John P. Raducha

Lansing - Daniel J. Jimenez

Plymouth - Brian F. Foust

Saginaw - John B. Musulin
Spring Lake - William J. Fritsma
Spruce - Leslie L. Miller
St Clair Shores - George Mihalic Jr.
St Joseph - Frederick A. Fenrick

Taylor - Alphonse P. Ruffner
Tekonsha - Brian C. Briegel

Warren - Thomas J. Lieckfelt
Westland - James J. McPartlin |
Wyoming - Robert L. Stewart


Adrian - James I. Kerekes
Alto - Paul L. VanOveren

Battle Creek - James P. Hayes

Caledonia - James P. Uyl

Florence - Dennis R. DeMerse

Grand Blanc - James Lott
Grand Rapids - Kenneth H. Terpstra

Haslett - Rodney H. Horton

Jenison - Frank P. Scalabrino

Middleton - Jim G. Niemiec

Negaunee - Roland K. Koski

Rochester Hills - Cecil R. Haggard
Rochester Hills - Walter E. Popyk
Rockford - Larry M. Taylor

Trenton - Arthur E. Wegienka

Ubly - Jerome J. Messing

West Bloomfield - Alan K. Kaczander

PHOTOS: (Top) Michael Gentry signals a change of possession while Detroit Country Day players cheer during this past season's Division 4 Final. (Middle) Gentry keeps an eye on the action as a side judge alongside back judge Nicole Randolph at Ford Field. 

Retired NHL-er Back on Ice to Answer Call - By Making Them

By Rob Kaminski
MHSAA benchmarks editor

March 16, 2023

The most accomplished skater on the ice during Friday’s triple-overtime MHSAA Division 1 Semifinal hockey thriller between Hartland and Brighton was not wearing the school colors of either team.

In front of a packed house at Plymouth’s USA Hockey Arena, referee Bryan Smolinski was in stripes, just like the rest of his officiating crew.

In his former life, he pulled on plenty of sweaters before lacing up the skates. That happens when one logs more than 1,000 games, tallies nearly 300 goals (274) and close to 400 assists (377) with eight teams spanning a 15-year playing career in the National Hockey League.

So, how did the 52-year-old former star player find himself on the ice last weekend as one of the referees for the pinnacle weekend of this high school season? Good question, even for the man known as “Smoke” during his playing days.

“I was working in youth development programs a few years back and reached out to some Michigan guys I had connections with about other ways to help the game,” Smolinski said. “I called Kevin May just to chat and asked, ‘Hey, how’s your reffing going?’ He said, ‘You know, we’re down a little bit,’ then said, ‘Why don’t you do it?’ I said, ‘Not a chance,’” Smolinski laughed.

Never Say Never

May persisted, imploring his friend to skate with him during a Fall league at Cranbook in Bloomfield Hills. After eight weeks, once a week, Smolinski had a revelation.

“I’m like, ‘I’m kind of diggin’ this,’” Smolinski said “So, I did all the testing, and the educational part of it, and I really enjoyed it. I got with Danny (DiCristofaro) and his group, and he put me in as much as he could, and I really started to get my feet wet.”

Smolinski, a retired NHL standout, communicates with the Bulldogs' bench.DiCristofaro is the assigner and referee-in-chief for the MHSAA’s Northeast Hockey Referees Association, and he has seen Smolinski’s growth first-hand.

“Obviously he’s got great instincts and a feel for the game, along with a wealth of experience, all of which has allowed him to climb the ladder quickly,” said DiCristofaro. “It’s been a joy to watch his growth as an official.”

Fast forward to last Friday, and there were Smolinski and May sharing duties as referees during the MHSAA Semifinal with linesmen Michael Andrews and Thomas Robbins.

In between, there has been a learning curve that still continues, but the jump to officiating was not quite as daunting as his introduction to the NHL.

“I was scared to death. My first game was against Mario Lemieux. I’m in the old Boston Garden and now I’m playing against these guys and it’s their job, and they’re out there trying to make a living,” Smolinski recalled.

The emotions were not running nearly as frenzied for his first game as an MHSAA official, obviously, yet respect came in a different form.

“I couldn’t pick the puck up, I was breathing heavily; it was Kevin and me doing a two-man game in Brighton,” Smolinski recalled. “There were a few high-end kids playing, and I’m thinking, ‘I’m dying here.’ You know, there’s no training for that first time.”

What that experience did, however, was revitalize Smolinski in a new way. His playing career is well documented, not only in the NHL, but around Michigan. He enjoyed an honor-laden career at Michigan State University from 1989-93 before joining the Boston Bruins (who had drafted him three years earlier) at the end of the ’93 NHL campaign. Even after his final season, with Montreal in 2007-08, he stayed in the game via men’s leagues, or coaching his son, Max.

Smolinski and his wife, Julie, have three daughters: Ashtyn (22), Jojo (16) and Rylen (12), along with Max, whom dad coached for seven years including during a national championship run with a Little Caesars U15 team in 2019. Max, 19, is now playing collegiately at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

So, for Smolinski, officiating offers a new chapter.

“Reffing brought back ... I wouldn’t say love of the game, because that’s always been there; it’s a different side of enjoying the game now. I have no horse in the race, my son’s off to college, my daughters are doing their thing; I wanted to find something new in the game,” Smolinski said. “I’ve coached, and I don’t want to do that. I found this, and I’ve stuck with it.”

Old College Ties

One of the great benefits of athletics at any level are the friendships made. For two kids who met in their first years on the MSU campus and forged a bond that lasts to this day, it’s amazing how their careers reached the pinnacle and have now come full circle.

Wes McCauley, an MSU teammate, is one of Smolinski’s best friends. After numerous years in the minor leagues, McCauley, like his friend, made it to the NHL. But McCauley made it as an official, working his first NHL game in 2003, when Smolinski was nearing the end of his playing career.

Smolinski keeps watch during game play. Their games lined up on just a few occasions in the NHL, and the two lobbied hard to have McCauley work Smolinski’s 1,000th career game in his final season with the Canadiens in 2007-08. The request, sadly, was denied by the league.

On the rare occasions when the friends did share the same ice, less than a handful by Smolinski’s count, it was McCauley who was forced to rebuff any attempts at fraternization. It’s just part of an official’s edict.

“For both of us, it was amazing; it was just great,” Smolinski said. “I’d say, ‘Hey man what’s up?’ and he says, ‘Can’t talk.’ I’m like, ‘What do you mean, we talk all the time.’ Again, he’s like, ‘Can’t talk, get away from me.’ You know, it was just business.”

McCauley then reached the 1,000-game plateau himself in 2018 and is still going strong as a regular selection for playoff duties with nine Stanley Cup Finals assignments, including last year.

 So, it should have been natural for Smolinski to go to his old friend immediately for officiating pointers once he joined the ranks, right? Well, maybe not immediately.

“I talk to Wes all the time, but I actually hid it from him right out of the gate because I didn’t want to take his razzing. Eventually it got out, and he was loving it. He started sending me whistles and visors and pants,” Smolinski said, grinning. “And none of it fit, you know, because I’m older and fatter, and he’s so damn skinny. So, I still had to go out and get all new gear.”

Both Sides Now

Having been to the top of his profession, now moving to the other side of that same mountain that his friend McCauley scaled, the respect has grown for those blowing the whistle.

“The preparation for officiating is much more mental,” Smolinski said. “Way more rules oriented. You’re always trying to get away with things that you can as a player; now you have to police that.”

Smolinski has a distinct advantage.

“I know everything they’re trying to do because I’ve done it. I know where you’re going with the puck, I know what kind of breakout you’re trying to do,” Smolinski said. “I have all the instincts, now I just try to stay out of the way and not ruin their game. The most fun is watching the game develop and the ups and downs. For me to be out there and enjoy it with them, that’s the fun part.”

Smolinski, third from left, with his crew: Michael Andrews, Kevin May and Thomas Robbins.Those who have played hockey at any level have a built-in advantage should they consider the officiating avocation: the ability to skate. Unlike officiating in any other sport, skating is a prerequisite. This makes the pool limited, and almost solely composed of former players. Smolinski offers this advice.

“I prefer sticking with high school because I think there’s more decorum, more administrative structure. Kids are playing for their schools, there’s loyalty there,” said Smolinski. “And there is more accountability. People need report to athletic directors and supervisors. Other levels can be more loosely governed, or a bit more maverick in nature. Moms and dads get involved more, coaches maybe know a little less,” said Smolinski.

He has, in fact, worked a handful of non-school games, and there’s a stark difference.

“I wanted to see what was going on, and I see it first-hand,” Smolinski said. “There are some crazy people and parents out there, and these guys are getting absolutely tortured. I’ve been tortured. There has to be a level of respect for what officials do. I think schools can rein that in a little more. All the guys I’ve met give up a lot of time and work hard because they love to do it and love the game.”

All sports need an assist from school administration and from those who once played the games to keep the officials recruitment moving in the right direction. People like Smolinski can help.

“He clearly doesn’t need to do this, and that’s what makes it so fantastic,” DiCristofaro said. “We need more people who have played – at any level – to do what he’s done and stay in the game as officials.”

Smolinski continues to promote the game in other ways as well. Currently he is involved in the NHL’s Learn To Play initiative, which aims to inspire youth and welcome more families into the hockey community.

“We work hand-in-hand with the NHL Players Association for player development and industry growth,” Smolinski said. “Ages 5 to 9 are introduced to hockey, get head-to-toe gear and instruction, and meet some former players.”

The idea is to have fun first, which can translate into years and maybe even a lifetime in the sport. It’s a lifetime that has given Smolinski so much and continues to do so as he watches it unfold for others from his new vantage point.

PHOTOS (Top) MHSAA official Bryan Smolinski signals during Friday's Division 1 Semifinal between Brighton and Hartland. (2) Smolinski, a retired NHL standout, communicates with the Bulldogs' bench. (3) Smolinski keeps watch during game play. (4) Smolinski, third from left, with his crew: Michael Andrews, Kevin May and Thomas Robbins.