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Thane Arsenault retires from officiating in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League


CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. —

Thane Arsenault could have accepted the news and hung up his skates.

But he pushed himself to get back on the ice to be able to leave on his own terms after missing the 2017-18 season due to serious back and neck surgery. Arsenault refereed his final Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) game Saturday night at the Eastlink Centre.

“It’s emotional, I won’t lie,” he said after stepping off the ice for the final time in the Q. “I had some NHL referees call me this morning and I got pretty emotional on the phone with them. I haven’t seen or heard from some of those guys in 13 years.

“It’s a real shared brotherhood.”

That was evident as some off-duty officials waited to see Arsenault after the game.

“He’s a big part of our team, you can say,” said Summerside’s Tanner Doiron. “He’s great to have around and always good for a joke and a smile.”

Doiron had spent hours in an airport and on an airplane coming back from the Canada Games in Red Deer, Alta., Saturday, but there he was five hours later at the Eastlink Centre to support a friend and colleague.

“There’s lots of guys that wish they could be here but they’re working other games,” Doiron explained.

Arsenault refereed 21 years in the QMJHL, starting in 1997. He's been on the ice with Sydney Crosby, Brad Richards, Vincent Lecavalier and the other stars during their tenure in the league.

Arsenault missed last season after waking up one August day with paralysis in one of his legs. It was the first time since he was 12 that he wasn’t on the ice during a season. He missed it and wanted to get back on the ice.

“It was a challenge,” he said. “Thanks to Kevin Elliott, Colin Moore and Harrison McIver, they got me back on the ice this year. It’s been a long road, it’s been a long process.”

He said he had some great conversations with Richard Trottier, the league’s director of officiating, after as he worked towards getting back on the ice and then during this season.

“The kids are getting faster, and I am getting a little older and stiffer, and we both decided that . . . I’ve had a great run at it, and this would be my last year,” Arsenault said.

The Charlottetown native, who grew up a stone’s throw from the Eastlink Centre, is 11th all-time in regular season games officiated in the league with 542.

As is customary with rookie players making their debut, Arsenault’s fellow officials let him do the first lap by himself before Saturday’s game. Piror to O Canada, the Islanders presented him with a photo and the players and fans stood and cheered for him.

Isles head coach Jim Hulton said Arsenault’s professionalism and consistency were the things that stood out to him.

“He’s a very even-keeled guy, which is a great demeanour to have as an official,” Hulton said. “He was a guy that was always calm and collected on the ice and as a result it calms you down.”

While it is Arsenault’s final year in the league it is Doiron’s first. He said having the support of the veteran official has helped him grow.

“It’s been nice to have him there,” he said. “He’s taught me lots and I can’t say enough about the guy.”

Arsenault’s start in the game came innocently enough.

He was 12 years old and hanging around the rink after playing a game when there was no one to ref a novice contest. Charles Ready asked him to go on the ice and before you knew it, Arsenault was hooked.

Being a hockey official is not easy.

Arsenault is a teacher at Colonel Gray High School during the day and has spent a lot of late night travelling the roads and missing family functions to officiate games.

“I have an exceptional wife (Danielle), who has been tremendous through all of this, and three boys (Jack, Brant and Brecken), who I love to death, and you miss a lot of things but along the way you meet some wonderful friends and connections,” Arsenault said. “I’ve worked with so many tremendous people and that’s the thing I will really miss.”

He’s done world junior games, Canada-Russia series contests, Allen, Royal Bank, Fred Page and Don Johnson Cup finals as well as the U Sports national title game.

An avid baseball fan, Arsenault also umps on the diamond and has also been an official in football and basketball.

“It’s all about communicating with people,” he said.

Arsenault, who turned 50 on Monday, plans to continue refereeing this season outside of the QMJHL and hopes to do one more season with Hockey P.E.I.

“I have been blessed, I really have. I feel very fortunate,” he said. “(Saturday) was a fitting ending to a wonderful experience.”


Need to know

Thane Arsenault

Who – A well-known hockey referee from Charlottetown.

Full-time job – Teacher at Colonel Gray High School.

Age – Turned 50 on Monday.

The latest – Worked his final Quebec Major Junior Hockey League game on Saturday.

Health – Arsenault had back and neck surgery and missed the 2017-18 season but worked hard to get back on the ice.

Fellow official Tanner Doiron said: “To come back and work major junior hockey, it’s quite an accomplishment. It just shows the work he puts he. He truly cares about the game and he wants to be at this level. I think that just shows his passion for the game.”

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