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Local hockey referee heading to Paralympic Games in Sochi

2/27/2014 - West Side Leader
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By Kathleen Folkerth

Bath resident Brian Frerichs is shown as he officiates at a sled hockey tournament between the U.S. and Canadian teams recently.
Brian Frerichs, of Bath, shown during a recent refereeing gig, is heading to the Paralympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, to serve as an official.
Photos courtesy of Brian Frerichs
BATH — Brian Frerichs, of Bath, is getting ready to head to Sochi, Russia, to officiate in hockey competition at the Paralympic Winter Games.

This is the second time Frerichs, 40, has had the chance to officiate in the games. He also was a referee in the 2010 games in Vancouver.

“If I had to pick one thing I’m looking forward to, it would be just the competition itself and the opportunity to represent my country,” he said. “That’s the biggest honor. Whatever sightseeing I might be able to do, that will be fine, but I’m not so much focused on that.”

Frerichs is one of about a dozen hockey officials from around the world that will work the games. He’ll be in Russia from about March 4 to March 17.

According to the International Paralympic Committee, which organizes the games, the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games will feature nearly 600 athletes with a physical impairment or visual impairment from 45 countries competing in five sports. The games feature 72 medal events (34 men, 34 women and four mixed). Team USA will compete in each of the sports contested in Sochi with an estimated team of 77 athletes.

“In sled hockey, it ranges from amputees to people who have legs but don’t have use of their legs,” Frerichs said. “In some cases, their disability may not be visible to the eye.”

In the Paralympics, the hockey players use a sled that features a seat with one or two blades underneath. They use two short sticks with picks in them to propel themselves and shoot the puck, Frerichs said.

“It’s fascinating to see an actual game going on,” he said. “It’ll blow your mind. We take for granted what we can or can’t do with our God-given limbs and function, and then you consider these people who are doing incredible feats of athletic skill with less than we have.”

Frerichs, who grew up in Cleveland and graduated from Shaker Heights High School, said he first was exposed to hockey at age 7 or 8 when his father was transferred to Canada and his family lived there for a time.

“I played through high school and into college, as well,” he said.

He first officiated a game when he was 12.

“I was doing refereeing for kids’ games and doing it for extra spending money,” he said. “I always looked at it that instead of a summer job, I had a winter job.”

In college at Miami University, he realized he wasn’t going to make playing hockey a career, but he did find he could continue to officiate.

“The opportunity came to attend development camps by USA Hockey where they groom officials for higher levels of hockey,” he said. “That began my process of climbing the ladder and officiating and led to working in minor league professional hockey, college hockey and ultimately international opportunities such as this.”

Through his training on international hockey, which has slightly different rules, he was identified as someone who could work at the Paralympics.

“In 2009, I got a call to see if I was interested,” he said. “I went to referee a pre-Paralympic tournament, and that led to being invited to the Paralympics the next year.”

He also traveled to Japan last year to referee at a world tournament.

Frerichs said he stayed in the Olympic Village in Vancouver, but expects he will be staying in a hotel in Sochi. He will be able to attend the opening ceremonies March 7 as a spectator, but he thinks he may be heading back to Akron before the closing ceremonies.

The games will be televised on NBC, but Frerichs said he expects their coverage will focus on U.S. teams. To keep officiating fair, referees do not work at games in which their own countries are competing, he said.

According to the U.S. Olympic Committee, its website, www.teamusa.org, will live stream all Paralympic Winter Games events.

While Frerichs said he enjoys his second career (he works by day as a financial analyst at Meggitt Aircraft), he is considering having this be his last officiating event. Frerich’s wife, Susan, has two sons, and the couple is expecting a baby in the next few months, he added.

“I had been living in Cincinnati for 15 years when I started some of the officiating,” he said. “I ended up getting married, which brought me back here in 2010. Since I’ve been back here, I haven’t done much in the way of local hockey. I’ve been winding down, particularly with family obligations. Last year was the last year I refereed college hockey.”

Being a hockey ref is tough work, he added, as it requires refs to be on the ice, skating, for the entire game.

“They change players and they get to rest, whereas officials don’t get a break,” he said.

He said the National Hockey League tends to recruit younger referees, but some do work games in other leagues until their 50s.

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