Every hockey player’s goal is to play in the NHL. Only a select few actually end up achieving their dream. So what happens when he or she takes the jersey off for the last time?
For his or her entire life hockey has been the focus, the goal, the routine.
However, just because a competitive jersey is no longer being pulled over the shoulder pads does not mean the time in hockey has to end.
Joe Mahon, a Portland Winterhawks and Calgary Hitmen alumnus, is putting on a new uniform. This one just happens to have a few extra stripes. Mahon is making the transition to officiating.
With the help and persuasion from veteran WHL linesman Jarrod Boman, Joe is well on his way already. Mahon is also connected with Jason Nissen of the WHL and Ian Walsh, who has refereed over 1,100 games at the NHL level. The three have assisted Joe as he is taking on this new opportunity locally in Portland.
“I kind of consider Portland home now, I started my family here,” Mahon said. “We live in Tualatin now, so we are local. I just fell in love with the city, the people, the whole vibe of the city. Just coming back into hockey, we are just super excited about that there’s an opportunity to get back into the game since I’m not playing. Jarrod and those guys have been a huge help.”
There is obviously a significant difference from playing to officiating. “It is a completely different ball game,” Joe said.
During his 96 games in the WHL, Mahon registered 11 goals, 10 assists, and 215 penalty minutes.
“Obviously when I was here I got into most of the fights, now I’m working on breaking them up,” Joe continued. “It is a little bit of a mindset change. There are some tweaks that you notice after skating that you noticed linsemen do; there is a lot more to it than just calling offsides and icings. Where to go, get out of the way of the play, but then you find yourself getting in the way of the play. There are just some things I’m going to work on. Jarrod, Jason, and Ian have all been a huge help to me in this transition.”
When players leave the game of hockey one of the areas they miss the most is the locker room and the bond they have with their teammates. Officiating can offer the same level of commodity.
Mahon talked about how “it is nice to be around the guys again, share some stories, some laughs. It is hard to explain if somebody has never been in that situation in these locker rooms. You leave hockey and a part of you leaves with it. To get back into the game and have this opportunity and having someone helping you out is huge for myself. It feels like a part of you is back together again.”
While there aren’t 20 or more in the locker room, there are three others.
“They become your brothers right away,” Joe described. “We are a team out there, we aren’t individuals. You look out for each other when you are out on the ice. You are trying to help each out, so it is very much a team aspect.”
The thought of becoming an official started for Joe while he was still playing, “It was actually when I was in Calgary, I was playing for the Hitmen. I built a relationship with a linesman in the Western League named Scott Sharun. He kind of put the bug in my ear. He knew my playing career was going to be coming to an end and was like, ‘You should really think about getting into reffing.’ At the same time, my dad was already a ref in Calgary, my hometown.”
Becoming an official took some persuading from some of the guys Mahon is closest to, “When I stopped playing hockey I took two years to kind of decompress. I started a family and moved to Portland. I played in the alumni game in Portland a few months back. (Also) ran into Jarrod again, he runs a company here in town. He ended up doing our deck and that is when we really started to talk. He’s like, ‘This is something you could really be good at.’ At the same time I started talking to Ian and Jason who I skate with on Thursday mornings. They both kind of helped me out, taught me some things, and really put the bug in my ear.”
Getting started in officiating is bringing a feeling back for the now 25-year-old. “Its got me excited. It has been a long time since I’ve felt this excitement and getting back in the game again. I kind of feel like a kid at Christmas. I can get back in the game and am super excited.”
Mahon’s fighting experience will be a key factor in helping him handle the physicality of the game. After having been in the same situations himself, he knows what to watch for and how to break up a fight. Oh, being six-foot-five helps too.
“For me, with that being my role when I played, I kinda know when something might happen. I can go to a guy and say, ‘Don’t do something stupid.’ The rules don’t say you can fight, but you can fight, it is hockey. It is going to happen, just don’t be stupid or dirty, and make it fair.”
Anticipation plays a key role for those carrying whistles on the ice.
Mahon elaborated saying, “You have to anticipate a play coming on, but you can kinda fell when something may happen. Knowing who is on the ice, who is on each team, you can even give them another heads up like, ‘be smart here.’ We are here to help the players out too. You don’t want to get the players suspended, nobody wants that. It doesn’t help anyone especially at this level. At the end of the day we are here to help, and honestly everybody wants to succeed and help each other succeed.
Players who drop the gloves are often fan favorites, which Joe Mahon certainly was in Portland. On the opposite end of the spectrum is often the officials, who fans and coaches seem to never be happy with. Coaches and fans seem to enjoy yelling their disapproval with a decision.
This is not something the Calgary, Alberta native is worried about though. “I got yelled at a lot as a player, so I’m kind of used to it,” Mahon commented. “They are going to get into a situation where they think they are right; you think you are right. We are just trying to make the best call. If they want to blow off some steam and yell at me, all the power to them, it doesn’t bother me.”
What matters most to Joe is the relationships he built, and is building, both on and off the ice.
On the ice “you always get a reputation, more so in the role I was with (when playing),” Joe said. “I would talk a lot with the linesmen. With the refs, you don’t want to get on their bad side. You are building a relationship with them because we are working together (as players and officials). We want to help each other out, and I think build up a good reputation with the players. Vise versa, the players want to build up a good reputation with the linesman.”
The off-ice relationships Mahon has built with Jarrod, Jason, and Ian continue to be key, “Jarrod and I’ve become pretty good friends here in town; Ian and Jason are the same thing. We skate with these guys. It is a relationship you really try to build and it doesn’t stay on the ice. You take it home with you, and it only helps you the more open doors you keep.”
Mahon got his first real taste of officiating the WHL when he was a linesman in Portland’s 2019 training camp games. He skated alongside the three guys who are helping him.
He is hoping to be in the WHL soon, but is “starting here locally trying to get my foot in the door doing these games and will then just see where it takes me. I need to see how long it takes to get up to snuff. Those guys that are in the Western League do a pretty good job, so I don’t want to put myself in a situation where I would be out of position harming somebody.”
Mahon’s father spent a significant time at the rink officiating games, and Joe joked, “I hope that I’m better than my dad, he is getting older, a little humble brag.” That said, he utilized his dad as a resource. “I called him after my first game. I told him the situations where I thought I needed help in. He is always there, he has been doing it for years. He is done now, but he was able to put it into perspective and teach me as I go along. It is good to get all these avenues. I don’t just go home and it is done. I am able to kinda learn everything as we go from multiple people including family and friends.”
While he is just starting out, Mahon’s goal is just like any hockey player. “My goal is to one day to make the National Hockey League, that is everyone’s goal. If I can’t do that, worst comes to worst, I have a good time, it is a ton of fun being out there and being on the ice again. Worst case scenario, I just get to hang out with some friends. Best case scenario, it becomes my career one day.”
Even though Joe Mahon took off the jersey for the final time playing competitive, organized hockey, he is far from done with the game.
“The jersey is off, but I’m back at it and is purely for the love of the game.”
Joe is working alongside Jarrod Boman who is taking on a mentor role in addition to being a WHL linesman and helping other officials in the Pacific Northwest.
For former or retired players looking to stay active in the game of hockey officiating can be a very beneficial experience.
Mahon is involved in the Northwest Officials Association.
Joe and Jarrod encourage others who are interested in officiating to reach out.
The competitive jersey may be off, but the opportunity to stay in the game of hockey is still available!
Stay tuned as Josh Critzer’s, and DUBNetwork’s, full conversation with Joe Mahon will be available on next week’s episode of the Pucklandia Podcast.