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Teenage referee recognized at a Buffalo Sabres game

Credit: Kelly Adams

Referee Cole Adams represented Central New York at a Buffalo Sabres game on Monday during USA Hockey’s Hockey Week Across America.

15-year-old Cole Adams loves the game of hockey. Like most boys and girls his age, loves to hit the ice whenever he can. Cole, however, does not dream about scoring the game-winning goal. He wants to determine if the puck went across the goal line.

“He’s wanted to be a hockey referee since he was three or four years old,” Cole’s father Kelly Adams said about his son’s desire to be an on-ice official. “Cole is the only kid I know who started playing hockey so that he could someday be a ref”.

Refereeing is a job most get into after their playing days are over, whatever level that was. The minimum age in New York State to become a certified referee is fourteen, although most do not start that young. Cole Adams began playing hockey early, as he played Clinton Youth Hockey for nine years. When he turned fourteen, he traded his playing gear for referee’s gear.

Cole Adams drops the puck during a youth hockey game at the Utica University Nexus Center. Photo submitted by Kelly Adams.

His father and family have always supported Cole’s decision to become an official. It’s no surprise given the Adams are a hockey family through and through. Kelly has helped out with the Utica Pioneers Men’s Hockey Team for several years, giving Cole, his brother Evan, and his sister Rachel exposure to the game from a very young age. Not surprisingly, Evan and Rachel play hockey as well – Evan is with the OCHC 12U program and Rachel is on the Utica Jr. Comets 12U girls team.

Getting started

Once Cole decided on his hockey path, his father knew who he could turn to. Mike Roberts is a long-time Central New York on-ice official who, like Cole, started refereeing at an early age (he was just ten years old). Roberts is the local referee supervisor for USA Hockey and sees something special in his young counterpart.

While many local officials have helped Cole develop as a referee, it is Roberts who has taken the youngster under his wing. “He officiated my first game with me and was someone who I could trust to help me grow my skills as an official”, Cole said about his mentor.

Roberts recalled how he first met Cole Adams.

“Cole’s father helps out in different aspects of the Utica University team or back then, Utica College”, Roberts said. “He would bring the scoresheet for us to sign, and his son (Cole) would come with him. I’ve probably known Cole since he was five years old. He’s the only kid I’ve ever known to go to a hockey game and root for the officials”.

A very young Cole Adams cheers on the referees as they take the ice at the Utica Memorial Auditorium. Video submitted by Kelly Adams.

“He would come in, ask questions about the game, ask questions about the officials, and tell us one day he’s gonna be an official”.

True to his word, Cole did just that. With the help of his father and Roberts, he was able to begin his training early. He now officiates games at the mites through the peewee levels.

Cole Adams confers with a fellow official during a youth hockey game. Photo submitted by Kelly Adams.

“I think when he was 13 years old, his dad came up to me and was like ‘Can I sign my son up early? He’s gung-ho and ready to go”, Roberts recalled. “I got him in touch with USA Hockey and our referee-in-chief for New York State said yes but he’s not going to be able to do any games”.

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Regardless, Kelly Adams registered his son with USA Hockey, and Cole was able to complete the refereeing seminars needed to become an on-ice official. As soon as he turned 14, the younger Adams was ready to don the referee stripes and began his officiating career.

USA Hockey is the governing body for hockey in the United States. To promote the game of hockey and attract participants, the organization is hosting Hockey Week Across America”. Each day, a different theme will be celebrated at rinks throughout the country. The Buffalo Sabres held Youth Hockey Day for their February 19 game against the Anaheim Ducks. It would be a game where a certain young referee from Central New York would get recognized.

The referee-in-chief for the central section of New York State was looking for someone to represent young referees. Mike Roberts knew who the perfect nominee was.

“I told him (the referee-in-chief) the story of how he was the kid who came in the locker room at five years old rooting for the officials and has wanted to be nothing but an ice hockey official ever since I have known him,” Roberts said with a smile. “I told his dad, just so you know this might be happening. If you have plans for Monday be prepared to move them around”.

The trip of a lifetime

Two weeks ago, Cole received a phone call informing him that he had been nominated to represent Central New York at the game. “I was immediately shocked and honored by my selection,” he said.

Before the start of Monday’s game, Cole got to meet with the linesmen and referees for the contest. Just like the officials in Central New York, the NHL officials offered Adams some sage advice.

L to R: Linesman Andrew Smith, Referee Kevin Pollack, Cole Adams, another young referee (unknown name), Referee Brandon Blandina, and Linesman Dan Kelly pose for a picture in the locker room at Monday’s Anaheim Ducks at Buffalo Sabres. Photo submitted by Kelly Adams.

“One of the best pieces of advice I got was something that was passed down to these officials by veteran official Kelly Sutherland”, Cole said. “He said to pinch the pocket of my pants while thinking about the penalty call before putting my arm up. That way I can feel confident about my call after putting my arm up”.

With his parents, brother, sister, grandparents, aunt, and uncle all in attendance, Cole got to skate out on the ice with the officials in front of over 15,000 people for warmups and the national anthem. It left an impression on him that he won’t soon forget.

“My legs were shaking a little bit”, Cole said of how he was feeling as he skated out onto the ice in front of all those people. “When I was on the ice, it seemed like it lasted a long time, but once I got off it felt like it went by really quickly”.

“It was honestly just one of the coolest experiences I’ve ever had”.

Photo submitted by Kelly Adams.

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