International Ice Hockey Federation

From player to zebra

From player to zebra

Former Olympian Brüggemann switched sides

Published 22.01.2014 20:28 GMT+4 | Author Martin Merk
From player to zebra
From an international player to an international referee – Lars Brüggemann infringes a taboo. Photos: DEB / Ronald Goudberg
It doesn’t happen often that a top player continues his hockey career as a referee. Some do it.

Like former Swiss national player Didier Massy, or former German Olympian Lars Brüggemann. He was eager to try it, and doesn’t regret the step that could also suit other players if they follow his example.

The 37-year-old was a top defenceman in the German league. He also represented his country in the Nagano Olympics in 1998, in the 1998 World Championship in Zurich and Basel, and in the 2000 World Championship B-Pool in Poland. But his career ended early. He had to stop during the 2006/2007 season in Wolfsburg as a 30-year-old due to injury.

“I had huge knee problems and the regeneration didn’t really work with many games and practices, so I decided to call it quits,” the North Rhine-Westphalia native said. “I had a break for some months and then I thought about becoming a ref where the risk of colliding with players isn’t that big.”

The thoughts came up when he visited a game and co-incidentally talked to Gerhard Müller, who’s also an IIHF referee supervisor. The chat got him interested in officiating.

“As a player I railed against referees as many players do, so I decided I wanted to do it better,” he said about his initial thoughts. “But I quickly realized it’s not that easy and I shouldn’t have railed that much at the refs!”

Brüggemann first had to start in amateur and junior hockey in 2007 to make his way up. The beginning was the most challenging part for him.

“I was a rookie as a referee after the many years as a player. I realized that officiating is not that easy as I imagined when I was playing. Referees do have a huge responsibility,” he said. “At the beginning I really had to get used to it. That was the toughest time. I felt a bit strange without having a stick and I did some mistakes, but then it got better. It went up continuously with my career.”

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At age 37 Brüggemann still sees many familiar faces from his player career. Having ten former teammates or opponents on the ice has become a normal part of his job in the beginning.

“That’s nothing special and I think they’re happy to see a former player, and everybody is professional enough to realize that we’re doing different jobs now,” he said and thinks that with his step into officiating he could even change the attitude.

“Many players think it’s good that a former player does this job, although I don’t think every player would make a good ref because to become a good ref you don’t necessarily need to be a good player. When I’m talking to players I have the feeling that they think more about officiating themselves while some years ago players didn’t consider this option at all.”

Meanwhile Brüggemann has become a top referee in his country. He was welcomed in the German top league DEL in the 2009/2010 season and in January 2011 he became one of three referees in the country that are hired as full-time on-ice officials.

In 2009/2010 he also made his international debut as a referee at the Continental Cup preliminary-round tournament in Krakow, Poland.

“It was a great honour and a good experience,” he said, but later in that season he got an even more surprising call a few days before the 2010 IIHF World Championship Division I Group A was set to start in Tilburg, Netherlands.

“I was very lucky. I jumped in due to cancelled flights because of the volcano eruption as I don’t live that far away from the Netherlands,” Brüggemann remembered the situation.

“It was a bit difficult because I wasn’t prepared, but I progressed day by day and it was a very good experience also because I once played this tournament as a player.”

He seems to have done his job well. When the game assignments for the last day were done, Brüggemann was selected for the Austria vs. Ukraine game that decided promotion to the 2011 IIHF World Championship in Slovakia. That’s the best mark you could get.

“I’m doing many events I did as a player, also the InLine Hockey World Championship last year. And there are still some bigger events I can dream of as a referee,” he said. That was back in 2011 before the U18 World Championship in Germany he was assigned.

“I’ve been looking forward to the World U18 Championship since I was listed in autumn,” Brüggemann admits. “It’s a promotion for myself that gives me confidence and I’m looking forward to officiate at this event in my own country. I already met some of my colleagues at this event during the referee exchange program this year. They’re nice guys and I’m really looking forward to working with them.”

Brüggemann was later called to officiate in the 2012 and 2013 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championships in Finland and Sweden and will now be rewarded for a career highlights: the Olympic Winter Games in Sochi.


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