George during a stoppage in play during the Sweden-Latvia game. (Photo: freestylephotography.com)
Frederick, Maryland is where RMNB was born, but it’s not exactly a hotbed for hockey. Beyond the Frederick ice rink off of Route 26 and some beer-league hockey teams, Frederick is more known as the city Washington Capitals minor leaguers drive through on the way to D.C.
Over the last few weeks, local media outlets have reported that RMNB’s hometown sent someone to Sochi, just not a player.
Frederick native and 2002 Urbana High School graduate Tommy George officiated in the Sochi Olympics.
When George was little, his parents took him to the US Air Arena for Caps games. He wanted to be a professional hockey player. At age eight, George played on his first travel team at Frederick’s ice rink, known to locals as SkateFrederick. When he wasn’t playing, he’d find any excuse to come to the rink anyway.
Norm Hayter, a referee of youth hockey for more than 20 years, saw that passion and asked George to do him a favor. Hayter served as Maryland’s officials training director for USA Hockey. He needed more officials. He told George the job would give him some more spending money and ice time.
At age 13, George refereed his first game.
“I got certified through USA Hockey, and it was the best decision I ever made,” George told the Frederick News Post’s Joe Ferraro.
As he got older, George’s love for the game continued, and he was instrumental in forming Urbana High School’s first ever hockey team. George went door-to-door to recruit players.
After graduating, George played junior hockey in Elmira, New York to try to catch the eye of scouts. Instead of playing on a college team, George was pulled back towards officiating.
At age 19, George landed a job with the now-defunct United Hockey League. A year later, he was hired by the American Hockey League, another step up in the ranks. George traveled across the country, once finding himself in Hershey breaking up a Joel Rechlicz fight.
In 2008, he obtained a license to officiate IIHF events and was later used at the U-18 World Junior Championships in the Czech Republic. He got the call the next year for the U-20 World Junior Championships in Ufa, Russia, another promotion.
This past June George received another honor, getting invited to the IIHF’s camp in Switzerland to determine the non-NHL officials for Sochi. It was a long shot, but George was happy for the invite. What came next was a huge surprise.
Four months later, while George was preparing to officiate a college hockey game at Notre Dame, he saw an email from the IIHF. The wait was over.
“I was getting ready to go on the ice,” George said to WUSA’s Dianne Roberts. “I turned my phone on, checked my phone, texted my fiancee one more time, saw an e-mail come through and said ‘I think I might want to read this one.’”
He had been picked to go to Sochi.
“It’s pretty cool,” George said of the nomination. “It’s quite an honor.”
George was one of only four U.S. hockey officials selected to go to Russia (Ian Walsh, Andy McElman, and Christopher Woodworth were the others), and the only one from the states not currently working in the NHL.
In Sochi, George worked several games including a tilt between Latvia and Sweden, which featured Caps teammates Nicklas Backstrom and Marcus Johansson. The last game he officiated was between Austria and Slovenia on Wednesday.
When George returns home from Russia, he will come back to a hockey-filled life in Frederick.
“He still shows up to our men’s league games twice a week for the DRT Bags and Old Fat Bald Guys Hockey League,” his teammate Eric Rigsby said in an email. “We play hockey, drink some brews, and still have a ton of fun. He does this after working a full-time job for the Special Olympics Maryland during the week and working part-time as a linesman in the AHL and Hockey East on the weekends.”
“He found his way to be involved at the highest level of hockey while not sacrificing his love for the game,” Rigsby concluded. “He is a really normal guy who constantly gives back to the sport whenever he can.”
Now he can say he’s an Olympian. Well, sorta.
Special thanks to Eric Rigsby for helping make this story happen.