WILKES-BARRE TWP. — Most 8-year-old boys dream of growing up and becoming a firefighter, policeman, sports figure, actor or maybe an astronaut. When John Patrick Waleski was growing up in Avoca, he wanted to be an ice hockey official.
John Patrick, better known as JP, now 27, has fulfilled his dream of becoming a professional ice hockey official – well, sort of. He is currently an official in the American Hockey League, but his ultimate goal is to make it to the big time in the National Hockey League.
Waleski, son of Stanley and Janice Waleski, remembers getting started as a basketball official at the American Legion in Avoca. His dad, known for coaching basketball and holding basketball camps, refereed at the Legion and would take the younger Waleski to games with him.
A few years later, Waleski saw a friend officiating an ice hockey game at the Ice Box at Pittston and thought he could do that. “I just looked at it as a way to get free ice time; little did I know it would be a paying job,” Waleski said.
An officiating seminar was being given at the Ice Box so the young Waleski decided to attend. “I remember someone said, ‘I hope you aren’t here for the money.’ That was the first time I knew you could get paid to ref a hockey game.” Waleski was 12 years old at the time.
According to Waleski, there are several divisions to junior ice hockey. Mites is 8 and under, Squirts is 10 and under, Pee Wee is 12 and under and there are two divisions of Midgets.
Initially, refs are supposed to work from the youngest class, progressing to the eldest class. One time, though, it was different for Waleski.
“I was supposed to work Mites and Squirts games and someone didn’t show up for Pee Wee and they asked me to ref the game,” he said. The ironic twist was, he was refereeing against a lot of his friends during the Pee Wee game.
He continued to officiate hockey for the next several years into high school. The 2009 Pittston Area graduate played hockey for the Patriots from eighth grade through graduation. “If I played a game with the Pocono Pirates at noon, at the end I’d end up refereeing the next game after that,” Waleski recalled.
While at Pittston Area, Waleski attended am officiating camp in Ontario, Canada where he found himself getting on a list to ref in the northeast of the U.S.
Upon graduating from Pittston Area, he enrolled at The University of Scranton from where he graduated in 2013 with two degrees, one in Political Science and the other in History — all while he officiated in a Tier 3 professional hockey league.
In order to move up, referees start in a lower tier in the U.S.A. Hockey Officiating Development Program umbrella.
Because Waleski worked under the umbrella, he’s been able to move up the ladder to his current position of the American Hockey League (AHL) and the East Coast Hockey League (ECHL) where he’s been working the past two years.
The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins are in the AHL where Waleski, who now resides in Wilkes-Barre, gets the opportunity to officiate several times during the season.
Serving as a linesman in the two leagues keeps him very busy, traveling 80 days a year. In 2016-2017, he worked 105 games, including playoffs.
Waleski can find himself in Wilkes-Barre one day and in New Hampshire the next. The league compensates his travel expenses and lodging.
Ice hockey officiating is his sole profession, making the rest of the year’s schedule tough to fill. During the other 280+ days of the year, Waleski can be found at the gym, walking the dog, spending time with his girlfriend and playing golf during warmer weather.
He is very focused on landing a full-time job officiating in the National Hockey League (NHL), which is the top tier professionally, a status to which he hopes to be elevated within five yearrs.
“If I’m 32 years old and I haven’t been hired by the NHL, I’m going to look towards something else,” Waleski said. With two college degrees under his belt, he just may go back to college to get certified to teach History.
Over the next five years, Waleski will teach hockey officiating in the off-season, put in his time on the ice during the regular season and hope that one day soon he’ll get to live his dream of officiating in the NHL.
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