Pittsburgh Bound: Bemidji native Dokken, a WCHA linesman, headed to Frozen Four
BEMIDJI – Andy Dokken won’t forget his first regular-season game as a Western Collegiate Hockey Association official: Oct. 15, 2010.
That was the grand opening of the Sanford Center (then the Bemidji Regional Events Center). Bemidji State versus second-ranked North Dakota – the first-ever WCHA game for the Beavers.
Dokken had worked games at the Minnesota State Boy’s Hockey tournament and had already officiated an exhibition game at North Dakota in front of 10,000 fans.
But for the Bemidji native, his first regular season contest at the Sanford Center was special.
“That game was intense and a whole lot of fun,” Dokken said proudly. “Especially being in your hometown for your first game… it was awesome.”
Dokken, 32, has been a WCHA linesman for three years, mostly working games at the Sanford Center and North Dakota’s Ralph Englestad Arena. He’s been officiating games at all levels for even longer.
But starting today, Dokken will be blowing the whistle on the biggest stage yet: The NCAA Frozen Four at Pittsburgh’s Consol Energy Center.
UMass-Lowell takes on Yale in the first semifinal game while St. Cloud State will play Quinnipiac in the other semifinal. Dokken didn’t know which game he’d be working but said it was an honor either way.
“I just found out last week,” Dokken said. “It’s pretty exciting.”
Like all NCAA officials, Dokken, along with his normal officiating crew of Brad Shepherd, Todd Anderson and Justin Hills, are evaluated and rated throughout the season.
In order to be selected for the playoffs, officials and officiating crews must get consistently high grades.
This year, Dokken and his team were selected to work the Final Five, as well as the Final Five championship game between Wisconsin and Colorado College.
Then, they got the call to work one of the NCAA East Regional semifinal games in Providence, R.I. They officiated No. 1 Quinnipiac’s thrilling 4-3 win over Canisius.
“It’s been great,” Dokken said of being able to officiate games at the highest levels of the sport – he’s also reffed high school games and in the junior leagues. “The WCHA is such a fun league to be involved with every night.”
It’s a way for Dokken to keep his passion for hockey alive.
The former Bemidji Lumberjack graduated from BHS in 1999 and had planned on staying in the game as a player. He was set to play junior hockey until an injury derailed his career.
Instead, he went to Bemidji State and got his teaching degree before attending Minnesota State Moorhead for his master’s in education.
Dokken was playing in some senior league rec games for fun when a group of local officials approached him.
“It’s actually a lot like playing,” he said with a laugh. “You kind of get recruited. These guys asked me to give it a shot.”
As it turns out, he was perfect for it. Dokken went to camps, got certified by USA Hockey and worked his way up the ladder.
He started with youth and high school games. From there he moved to the USHL and NAHL before finally getting his shot at the WCHA.
League officials usually work games at one or two league locations.
Dokken works games in Bemidji and Grand Forks – which works perfectly with his schedule as a teacher at Red Lake Middle School.
“The kids are pretty excited for me,” he said. “It’s pretty cool to be able to share my experiences with them.”
This weekend, though, will be unlike anything he’s ever done – a nationally televised NCAA tournament final.
“I don’t even know what to expect,” he said. “I’m just going to enjoy the whole experience.”