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Love of hockey kept Saskatchewan referee officiating for nearly 45 years

After nearly 45 years of officiating hockey, Bruce Skilliter refereed his last SJHL game in November 2019.
After nearly 45 years of officiating hockey, Bruce Skilliter refereed his last SJHL game in November 2019. Graham Skilliter / Supplied

Retired Saskatchewan referee Bruce Skilliter officiated hockey for almost 45 years.

“All the games I reffed, I think I had over 4,000 hockey games,” he said.

“I only ever got hurt once. So I think that’s pretty good odds. I actually got kicked in the face of the skate. Not on purpose or anything, but ended up busting my jaw, losing some teeth and a few things like that.

“But that’s part of the game.”

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Originally from Hudson Bay, Sask., Skilliter said he started reffing as a teenager to stay involved with the sport — any way he could.

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“It was a neat way to stay in the game because I wasn’t a very skilled hockey player by any means. But it was a good way to stay in the game. The best seat in the house and you actually get to be part of the game as much as anything,” Skilliter said.

“I never reffed in the Western Hockey League, but I reffed or officiated every other league and level in the province.”

The final game of his career came back on Nov. 15, 2019, at Mel Hegland Uniplex between the La Ronge Ice Wolves and the Humboldt Broncos.

He was joined by his son and NHL official, Graham Skilliter, who entered the third period as a surprise guest linesman.

“It was pretty neat. The La Ronge Ice Wolves and the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League (SJHL), they really did it up in a classy way. And I got to work the last half of the third period with my son, which I didn’t know was going to happen,” Skilliter said.

“It was a little emotional for sure but it was good. And once we got the game underway, well, it was just another game.”

Bruce Skilliter (right) officiates the last game of his career with his son, Graham.
Bruce Skilliter (right) officiates the last game of his career with his son, Graham. Graham Skilliter / Supplied

The 2019-20 season also capped off 26 years of service in the SJHL for the 60-year-old.

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Earlier this month, the Saskatchewan Hockey Association (SHA) selected Skilliter for its Most Deserving Officials awards which acknowledge the efforts of people who have a passion for officiating.

SHA said Skilliter has helped to recruit current SJHL players and others to join the officiating team up north and help to provide capable local officials to help the local minor hockey organization.

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Each of the zone winners in the Most Deserving Officials category are considered for Hockey Canada awards for the 2019-20 season. The winners are expected to be announced in August.

“It’s nice to be recognized and I’m sure there’s an awful lot of people in the country that deserve it as much or more than I do, but it’s nice to be recognized for sure,” Skilliter said.

For his professional career, Skilliter was a lineman for SaskPower and has since retired in northern Saskatchewan.

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