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Pochmara brothers earn their officiating stripes
Jan. 5, 2007
By LINDA BOUVET, LSSU Sports Information Director
When Lake Superior State alumnus Barry Pochmara visits Sault Ste. Marie, he prefers no fanfare. In fact, the more anonymous he remains, the more pleasant the trip.
Barry Pochmara and his older brother, Brian, are both accomplished hockey officials. As the saying goes, when the fans don't notice the officials, the officials are doing a good job. But the Pochmara name is a bit too familiar in Sault Ste. Marie for the brothers to pass through town entirely unnoticed.
Barry, who got his start in officiating as a youth hockey referee when he was a teenager, was a rookie linesman in the Central Collegiate Hockey Association in 2002-03, the year before he earned his exercise science degree from LSSU. He was promoted to referee last season.
"It was weird the first game I worked up there," said Barry, who played for LSSU in 2001-02. "I had just played at Lake State the season before. I had played with half the guys on the Lakers' bench. But it didn't take me too long to adjust."
Barry quickly established credibility and was selected to work as a linesman in the 2003 CCHA Playoffs Championship at Joe Louis Arena and the NCAA West Regional in Colorado Springs, Colo.
"I was still a young official," he remembers. "That was pretty awesome."
Barry spent the 2003-04 season traveling the country, working North American Junior Hockey League and United States Hockey League games. He returned the CCHA in the middle of the 2004-05 season. He is one of a handful of CCHA officials who have played in the league.
"I understand the CCHA game, the players and the coaches," Barry said. He was also familiar with the NAHL, where he led the Soo Indians in scoring in 2000-01.
Barry's transition from linesman to referee happened during the same season that the CCHA followed the NHL's lead and began a rules initiative to eliminate obstruction from college hockey. The timing worked out well for him.
"I think it's great for the game," Barry said. "It allows the skill and speed of the game to stand out. The players who have it are able to play the way they're supposed to play."
Barry is single and resides in Eastpointe, Mich. He is in his second year running a side business as a personal trainer.
"I'm using my exercise science degree!" he noted.
Brian, who lives in Clinton Township, Mich., is married to Sault Ste. Marie native Carrie Pavlat, and the couple has two children. Brian attended LSSU from 1994-98 and was a member of the Laker golf team for two seasons. He also began officiating as a teenager, but attending LSSU and living in the hockey-crazed community of Sault Ste. Marie opened doors for him that led to a career as a hockey official.
Brian officiated one season in the NAHL before joining the CCHA staff during his sophomore year at LSSU. He went to work full-time for the United States Hockey League in 1998-99, then spent one year with the East Coast Hockey League. He worked his first National Hockey League game last season.
"It's an adjustment," said Brian of his promotion to the NHL. "The higher you go, the quicker the game becomes. When I went from linesman to referee in the CCHA, I knew how fast the game was. Making the transition to referee, you have to develop a different mindset.
"At every level, the players don't know you at the beginning. I have to develop a level of respectability with the players and coaches. I am very much on the young side. Penalties I might call, they might question me more than others. That rapport comes with experience and time, and seeing my face."
According to Brian, the new rules initiatives take the "gray area" out of interpreting infractions.
"Officiating is a tough job to do," he said. "Every time I make a call, one side is going to be upset. Hockey players in general are very competitive. Whatever you allow them to gain, they're going to try to get. If you give them an inch, they'll take a foot."
Brian earned his pro hockey stripes, so to speak, while working a grueling 100-game schedule in the ECHL in 1999-00. He worked his way up the pro hockey ladder and made his NHL debut on Dec. 23, 2005, when the New York Islanders played host to Ottawa.
"It was something I'll never forget," Brian said. "My wife, and my mom and dad were able to make it. It seems like it was just yesterday."
This year he has an 80-game contract, splitting time between the NHL and American Hockey League. At the time of this interview, he was in the midst of a 13-day road trip and waiting in an airport for the flight to his next venue. He had worked the Atlanta-Anaheim NHL game the previous night and was heading to the East Coast for AHL games in Hartford, Springfield and Lowell, Mass.
The Pochmara brothers appreciate their unique opportunity to have careers in hockey.
"I told Barry, you can't put a price on a career you enjoy," Brian said.
Lake Superior State Men's Ice Hockey