Vernon native Tom Kowal has retired after 18 seasons as an NHL referee.
The 50 year old worked just over 11-hundred games, including 12 in the playoffs.
Kowal refereed his final NHL game Saturday between Florida and Boston at the TD Garden.
His NHL debut was on January 8, 2000, in a game between the New Jersey Devils and Carolina Hurricanes.
The NHL Official Association says Kowal started officiating hockey games at a young age after his dad talked him into it in order to learn a little bit more respect for the game.
“He quickly realized that it was also a great way for a young man to get free ice time while earning a few bucks. He worked his way up through all levels of amateur hockey around Vernon BC, and his communication skills made him a quick prospect for higher levels,” says a release from the association.
At the age of 18, he left Vernon to pursue his dream of being an NHL referee.
He was hired by the Western Hockey League, where he worked for ten seasons.
“Then the big call came in when the National Hockey League offered him a NHL Minor Leagues Referee contract in the summer of 1998 at the age of 30. He made his NHL debut on January 28, 2000 in Raleigh NC when the New Jersey Devils were in town to play the hometown Hurricanes.”
Kowal was promoted to the NHL full-time after a few years in the minors.
“During his 20 years journey under contract with the National Hockey League, Kowal had the honor of being selected to work the 2011 NHL All-Star Game in the same city where he made his NHL debut; Raleigh NC. He also worked the 2014 Heritage Classic held at the BC Place in Vancouver, a game that featured the Ottawa Senators and the Vancouver Canucks.”
The man who wore number 32 reached the 1,000 NHL Regular Season Game milestone on January 19, 2017 in Calgary when he skated in a game between the Nashville Predators and the Flames.
Wikipedia says Kowal now lives in High River Alberta with his wife and three children.