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Golden moment for Kelowna referee

Steve Papp's Kelowna home was packed Sunday morning as friends and family watched his every move during the gold medal game at the World Junior Hockey Championship in Malmo, Sweden.

Papp, a 29-year-old referee from Kelowna, was front and centre as one of two referees working the gold medal game between Finland and the host Swedes.

It was an opportunity that doesn't come around very often for a Canadian official on the international stage.

"Not a lot of Canadians get the chance because Canada has, in the past, been in the finals so much so it was a great opportunity," Papp told Castanet after arriving back home.

"Ultimately, I was very excited and very fortunate to work the gold medal game at the World Juniors but I'm also as big a fan as anybody else that I would have taken a bronze medal game and had Team Canada in the gold medal game in a heartbeat."

That scenario played out for Papp a year ago at the World Under 18 tournament in Sochi, Russia.

He was tabbed to referee the bronze medal game in that tournament after Canada found itself in the gold medal game.

Papp says he was a bit surprised he was handed the plum assignment given the way the tournament had gone for him up to that point.

His biggest games to that point were Russia/Norway and USA/Germany.

"I didn't feel like I was getting the top games and the next thing you know you feel like you did a good enough job that they liked you and wanted to use you in the final. It was really an unforgettable moment," says Papp.

He got the good news shortly after the two Saturday semi-finals had concluded.

"I was at the hotel and the supervisor showed up and knocked on my door. I opened the door and he gave me a piece of paper," recalled Papp.

"Of course I looked for the gold medal game first and saw my name there. It was kind of like how the Canadian kids used to get picked for the team back in the day with the knock on the door. It was a cool moment."

While, for the most part it was just another game, Papp says it was definitely the biggest game he has ever worked.

"It's probably the most pressure I've had in a game," says Papp.

And, like any game at any level, there are always things that don't necessarily go as planned or calls that go as smoothly as you would like.

Papp's uneasy moment came midway through the second period when Finland scored to take a 2-1 lead.

At IIHF (International Ice Hockey Federation) tournament's the bottom of all the nets are double meshed making it hard to see the bottom two feet of the net.

On Finland's second goal, Papp says the puck hit the back of the net, came out, hit the post and slid across the goal line.

"By the time I saw the puck it was actually sliding across the goal line and the player was already jumping against the glass celebrating," says Papp.

He didn't point to signify a goal and the goal light wasn't on.

"I figured it went in but I never actually saw the puck go in because you are basically blocked out of the bottom of the net with the mesh."

He followed procedure and went upstairs to have the goal confirmed through video review.

"All the players on the ice were asking why we were going upstairs because it was pretty obvious the puck had gone in," says Papp.

"We still had to follow procedure if you're not 100 per cent sure."

Tournaments such as the just completed World Junior and the World Under-18 are good training grounds for officials like Papp who aspire on day to make the jump to the NHL.

While that is what Papp hopes to work toward he knows the opportunity for officials, as it is for players, is slim.

"But I will definitely do everything I can to pursue that dream."

Papp won't get much time to settle back in before heading back out on the road.

After getting back home Monday he gets a few days away from the rink before hitting the road for three WHL games this weekend. Then it's off to the American Hockey League for a couple of games early next week.

 

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