Local referee named most improved official


A Sturgeon Falls referee has been recognized for the progress he’s made over the last year, even as there was little hockey played in the province during the winter.

Roch Gagnon was named the Most Improved Official by the Northern Ontario Hockey Association earlier this month. He is the first winner from West Nipissing in the award’s 30-year history.

“I’m never going to pick on my coworkers, I’m always the one to give out my opinions and help them out and to teach the little ones as well just to keep going,” says Gagnon. “It’s a tough road, because parents and coaches will tend to pick on them if they don’t know as much, so I just try to give them that boost of confidence and I think that’s what gave me a chance to win that award.”

Gagnon’s nomination from the NOHA board highlighted his willingness to call games all around the area and his enthusiasm to always take in more information. 

“Roch always steps up when coverage is needed and willing to lend a hand,” read his nomination form. “Roch shows a strong interest in officiating and is always showing a willingness to learn and improve.”

That willingness to learn and help out was especially valuable this year, given how COVID-19 impacted youth hockey.

Gagnon usually officiates around 70 games a season, but because of the ongoing pandemic, he only saw around 20 games worth of action this winter. And the hockey that was played looked quite different than usual, with no faceoffs or body contact to limit the potential spread of COVID-19.

“I feel like I improved my skills. Even though hockey wasn’t the same, the mindset of the game was still there,” says Gagnon. “So, I feel like personally, just my skating ability I really improved on that and trying to anticipate certain plays so I wouldn’t get in the way or potentially miss a goal. Although it was a different year, I truly think I did my best to excel in my performance.”

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