Reeb, Officiating Crew Dedicated to Helping Make Island Games Go

By Tom Spencer
Special for

January 8, 2022

High school sports officials are quite familiar with the phrase, “They can’t play the game without you.”

Athletic Directors are even more familiar with it. They live it. They believe it. Covering the multitude of interscholastic contests is quite daunting for mainland Michigan ADs.

School officials on Mackinac Island and Beaver Island have an even bigger task.

That’s where Dave Reeb comes in. He’s been officiating volleyball and basketball for as long as folks can remember.

Without Reeb, 73 years young, and his partners, the island athletes simply wouldn’t be able to play the game.

“For many years Dave has organized getting refs over to the Island for our volleyball and basketball programs,” said Kerry Smith, Beaver Island AD. “He always makes sure we have someone here.

“Especially at a time when refs are hard to find, he always comes through for us.”

Reeb would have been at Mackinac Island this weekend with Glen McIntyre to officiate a boys basketball Northern Lights Conference game between the Lakers and Munising Baptist. COVID-19 challenges caused the visitors to cancel the Friday evening and Saturday morning contests.

McIntyre is currently registered for basketball, volleyball and softball with MHSAA. He began officiating in 1979. He got into volleyball a few years ago  He’s scheduled to go with Reeb to Mackinac Island again Feb. 11 and to Beaver Island Feb. 18. 

In the meantime, Reeb will take advantage of the weekend off and travel to Perry with his wife, Linda, to watch one of his grandsons play middle school basketball. It should be easy traveling as compared with journeying to Mackinac and Beaver.  

island officialsBoat, airline and sometimes snowmobiles are offered by the schools to get Reeb and his partners over from the mainland and to the school. Reeb lives in the Inland Lakes area, as do many of his partners.

During his early days of going to the islands, Reeb flew out of Petoskey with his former referee partner Randy Sagante in a private plane actually piloted by Sagante. The two of them were dubbed “The Flying Referees” by a local reporter. 

Chartered flights have been the most common mode Reeb and other referees have used to get to both islands.  

“With Mackinac, you never know,” said Reeb, a 30-year volleyball and 20-year basketball veteran. “When you go over there on the ice crusher … it’s been fun too.”

Reeb’s next island game is at Beaver Island on Jan. 14.  Steve Hines, formerly the longtime girls basketball coach at East Jordan, will be taking his first trip to officiate the Islanders with Reeb. They are scheduled to fly out of the Charlevoix Airport.

Hines has officiated volleyball with Reeb and has been to Mackinac Island once for volleyball. They’ve done basketball games together previously on the mainland.

“When I exited coaching, I decided to give officiating a shot,” Hines said. “I am looking forward to going with Dave.”

Hines is a shiny example of what school administrators love about Reeb. He always comes through with a partner so kids can play the game

“Every time, yep,” Hines said of Reeb.

Amy Peterson, who is now in her second year as superintendent, principal and athletic director for Mackinac Island, is glad she met Reeb shortly after starting on the Lake Huron island. She had been involved in athletics in her previous job at Houghton Lake but only as a parent of school athletes.

Reeb had been coming to Mackinac Island long before she arrived.

“I got to know Dave last year right when I got here,” Peterson said. “One thing about Dave is he is either here himself to help or he knows a whole lot of people who can.

“Being new to this area and the athletic part, he was really helpful.”

Another example of getting officials to the islands is Reeb’s grandson, Jacob. He went to Beaver Island in 2018 and 2019 to referee both volleyball and basketball with his grandfather.

island officials“After we’d get done, he’d stick around and shoot baskets with the teams,” Reeb said. “They got to know him. 

“It was fun for him. It was a connection for him too.”

It isn’t just his just his abilities to get officials nor his officiating skills that stand out for Reeb on the Lake Michigan island though.

“Dave is not only a ref but a friend to our community,” Smith said. “He genuinely cares about the kids and community here.

“He is an amazing asset to our school and the other schools he serves all over Northern Michigan,” Smith continued. “Dave is one of a kind, and we truly appreciate his commitment and dedication to BICS.”

Smith noted Reeb has had a significant impact on student-athletes over the years.

“The kids and parents know him well,” she said. “He goes out of his way to help kids improve skills as well as help new coaches. 

“He always has a smile and a kind of easy-going demeanor,” she continued. “Everyone knows Dave, and we will keep him coming back to the island for as long as he wants to ref.”

Reeb has enjoyed the relationships, too, just as he did during his career as an educator with the Inland Lake schools.

“It is great to see the students progress year to year,” he said. “Now I am seeing some of their kids coming through, just like I did at Inland Lakes.

“Some of the fans have been enjoyable … you see them again and again,” he added. “I have really, really enjoyed it, and it helps the schools.”

Retired Beaver Island volleyball coach Connie Boyle indicated Reed was much more than a referee. She was impressed with Reeb’s commitment and saw him as a mentor, coach and a friend to many of the visiting coaches, as well as visiting and island athletes.

“When you ref on the island, it is a huge time commitment because you need to be at Island Airways in Charlevoix for your flight by 4:30 and you will ref basketball and volleyball games that night, as well as first thing in the morning, which means you won't leave the island until 1 o’clock the next day,” she said. “You can always count on Dave to do an impeccable job during the game.”

island officialsBoyle is one of many who noted the specialness and frequency of which Reeb and his wife Linda made quilts and presented them as gifts.  

“Occasionally he gifts a senior one of his very special quilts, which are truly amazing and cherished by the girls,” Boyle said. “Because if Dave Reeb thinks you're a special player and person, you stand even a little taller.”

Boyle’ s daughter Caitlin, who died last year after battling a brain tumor, received a quilt from the Reebs. She was part of the Islanders Class of 2009.

Tom Frick, now retired, was a teacher at Mackinac Island and Inland Lake schools. He refereed volleyball and basketball for nine years. He was yet another example of Reeb finding referees to help.  

“One day we were talking and he said, ‘Get your stuff, and we’ll do it’ - so I did,” Frick recalled. “We went over there four or five years. 

“He was very committed to the those people on the islands,” Frick continued. “They really enjoyed him.”

Weather often interferes with getting on and off the islands. Reeb has never taken the two-hour ferry ride from Charlevoix to Beaver, counting on the plane ride. He has been on the much shorter ferry ride to Mackinac. 

For the most part, the flights to the islands have been fine, the officials noted. Only once on each Island did Reeb get “stranded” while refereeing the Lakers and Islanders. He and his partner had to spend another night waiting for the weather to clear for a flight back to the mainland.

Tom Spencer is a longtime MHSAA-registered basketball and soccer official, and former softball and baseball official, and he also has coached in the northern Lower Peninsula area. He previously has written for the Saginaw News, Bay County Sports Page and Midland Daily News. He can be reached at with story ideas for Manistee, Wexford, Missaukee, Roscommon, Ogemaw, Iosco, Alcona, Oscoda, Crawford, Kalkaska, Grand Traverse, Benzie, Leelanau, Antrim, Otsego, Montmorency, Alpena, Presque Isle, Cheboygan, Charlevoix and Emmet counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Official Dave Reeb counts off an inbound during a basketball game at Beaver Island. (2) Former longtime official Morris Porter monitors the action as Caitlin Boyle sets during a 2008 match. (3) From left, Reeb, Gerald LaFreniere, referee Jerry Cook and Rick Speck talk things over at the scorer’s table. (4). From left, former official Randy Sagante with Beaver Island athletes Heather McDonough (11), Deven Cook (15), former volleyball coach Connie Boyle, Caitlin Boyle (14), Maeve Green (6) and Reeb. The four athletes were seniors in 2008-09. (Basketball photos courtesy of Beaver Island News on the ‘Net; volleyball photos courtesy of Frank Solle.)

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.