Aside from those who play the game, no one gets any closer to the action at the IIHF World Junior Championship than the third team on the ice – the officials.
So when Pascal St-Jacques got the call that he’d be a referee at the 2015 World Juniors, it was a life-long dream come true. HockeyCanada.ca caught up with the Laval, Que., native to share his memories of Toronto and Montreal.
Q: How did you react when you found out you would be a referee at the 2015 World Juniors?
A: The first time I was invited to the IIHF World Junior Championship was in Sweden, the year before. Unfortunately, though, I got injured and I was not able to recover in time. It was really disappointing. But life has a way of working itself out, I got called the following year towards the end of September, and I was told I had been selected for the tournament in Montreal and Toronto. My first reaction was to call my girlfriend, but she didn’t answer. Then I called my mother, but she didn’t answer either. So I was crying tears of joy, alone, in my car!
Q: Was the IIHF World Junior Championship a personal goal?
A: If you had told me 25 years ago, when I was just starting as a referee, that one day I would be officiating at the World Juniors, I would’ve probably told you that you were crazy, or that it was impossible. Because there are so many referees in Canada and so many circumstances that come into play as to whether you can end up there any given year, chances are pretty slim. Many are called, but few are chosen, as the saying goes. But I have to admit I was praying pretty hard for an invitation after the ordeal [in 2014].
Q: Being a Quebec native, how did it feel to work a World Juniors on home ice?
A: My first game of the tournament was in Montreal, an unexpected win by Slovakia against Finland. It was the only game I did in Montreal, but it was the one I was the proudest of, because my six-year-old and my four-year-old sons were in the stands watching their father on the ice at the Bell Centre. Getting to be involved in such a tournament, in that context, I still get goosebumps talking about it. To have my kids, my girlfriend and my mother in the stands watching me work, I have to say that it was the highlight of my career.
Q: What does the IIHF World Junior Championship mean to you?
A: When I was a kid, my family spent the holidays watching that tournament at home. It was a big deal, and as a young referee, I dreamt about it. Dreams don’t often come true, but I got to fulfill this one. I’ll never be an official in the NHL, in the AHL or with the pros, so that was my biggest accomplishment. It’s what gave a meaning to my career, essentially. I’ll never get that feeling I had inside me during these five days again. I even recorded all the games, and I’ll be keeping them at home for the rest of my life.
Q: For a referee, how different is the World Juniors compared to other tournaments?
A: I did several tournaments around the world; during the U18 [world championship] in the Czech Republic, there were more scouts than spectators in the crowd. I also did other championships where spectators only came to the home team’s games. But, having talked about it with several other referees that worked at the World Juniors elsewhere, it’s when the tournament is held in Canada that it’s really special. I remember doing a game between Sweden and Germany in Toronto, and the arena was packed.
Q: Why would you urge all hockey fans to attend the 2017 IIHF World Junior Championship?
A: It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience! It was simply incredible. I didn’t get a chance to see it with my own eyes in Montreal, but the atmosphere around the arena in Toronto was amazing. The World Juniors is the next generation of NHL stars. I was on the ice with the likes of Auston Matthews, Jesse Puljujarvi and many others. These are exceptional players that could probably play in the NHL during the year that they play in the World Juniors. Since they represent the game’s future, they deserve our country’s support.