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Sudbury referee one step closer to realizing his dream

Chris Pontes progressing through the ref ranks
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Former Sudbury Wolves player Chris Pontes is still involved in hockey at 28, though following a different path as he's now donning the black and white stripes as a referee. He's seen here during his days playing AHL hockey with the Laredo Bucks. (Supplied)

In many ways, the pathway to the NHL is not terribly dissimilar for an official as the route that would travel a young hockey prospect. 

In that sense, 28-year-old Sudbury native Chris Pontes has to be encouraged by the progress that he has made to date.

"Last year, I ended up doing about one week a month in the American League (AHL), and doing the other three weeks in the East Coast (ECHL)," Pontes said, shortly for leaving the north for his 2017-2018 base in Guelph.

"It gave me a good flavour of the four man system, and it was nice to get that little bump up in the level of hockey. Obviously, I want to keep moving up the ranks, but you also want to develop at the same time. There's been some talk about ramping up my assignments in the American League."

A one-time draft pick of the Sudbury Wolves, Pontes followed up a stellar career in the NOJHL with a taste of pro hockey, suiting up with the Knoxville Ice Bears, Laredo Bucks, Pensacola Ice Flyers and Mississippi RiverKings in a span of two years.

It was shortly after his return to Sudbury that Pontes was approached about remaining in the game as an official. His effortless skating ability would serve him well, as he quickly progressed on a local level.

Awarded his first full-time pro contract in 2015-2016, Pontes approaches his craft in much the same way a minor league player might tackle trying to make the jump to the big leagues. 
"It's kind of what life is all about - living and learning," he said.

"Making mistakes and bouncing back from them. It's not even as much about my ability to make penalty calls, but rather the ability to stay calm under pressure. It's communication skills, it's all those small things that you learn.

"Not that you'll ever learn everything, but two years later, I feel that I've gotten ten-fold better with a lot of those things." 

Intelligent and articulate, Pontes has expanded his skill-set beyond the draw which initially would catch the attention of the likes of former NHL linesman Dan McCourt and others.

"I've always enjoyed and been very good at skating," he said. "The game is getting quicker, it's getting faster, kids are more agile at a younger age, and you have to be able to keep up to that." 

Now, the challenge is to master the remaining 90 per cent of officiating that occurs from the shoulders up.

"Sometimes, I think too much," Pontes said. 

"Sometimes on the ice, as an official, you just have to let things happen. When you think too much, your presence, which should be there, diminishes. The instant you think, you might stop moving, you're not engaged in the play the way you're supposed to be, you're in your own mind."

Based out of Tulsa (Oklahoma) in year one, sharing an apartment with a fellow official, Pontes experienced a similar arrangement last year, except in Cincinnati (Ohio) this time. With the move to Guelph, he will be able to spend far more time with his girlfriend, much closer to home.

"I would love to be out of Sudbury, because Sudbury is home, but unfortunately, it's just too small an airport," Pontes said. "A lot of the flights I need do not fly out of there." 

Though the travel might eventually wear on those who choose this lifestyle, the local signal-caller sounds anything but tired of the pursuit of his dream.

"I love going out to the rink every day, and being a part of the game that I loved playing as a kid," he said. "Generally, theres seems to be a five year windown, sort of from late twenties to early thirties. I wanted to give myself to 30, 31.

"I'm working hard at it, doing the best that I can, and I'm trying to learn - and that's what I can control. At the end of the day, if I am not able to take my talent as an official to the NHL level, then this is what I was able to give back to the game. If it doesn't happen, so be it. But let's see what happens."



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