© — Submitted photo
American Hockey League linesman Mike Winslow (far right), a native of St. John’s, gets ready to drop the puck for a faceoff between Taylor Vause of the Texas Stars and C.J. Stretch of the Oklahoma City Barons during a game in Austin, Texas. The 26-year-old relocated to nearby Houston to work in the oil and gas sector last February and soon after started working the lines for Stars and San Antonio Rampage games.
St. John’s native Mike Winslow working AHL games, enjoying life on southern ice
Mike Winslow decided a long time ago that he’d make a better official than a hockey player and he’s run with it.
Ran with it all the way to Houston, Texas, as it turns out.
A St. John’s native, Winslow couldn’t find a job in the capital city after earning a mechanical engineering degree from Memorial University, so he moved to Houston at the end of last February.
A referee and linesman since he was 12 years old, Winslow came up through the ranks and now has a level 4 certification after doing games at the bantam, midget, high school and senior (Avalon East) level.
“I basically officiated games when I wasn’t playing,” was how Winslow explained his love for hockey.
Winslow played minor hockey with the St. John’s association, high school with Bishops Barons and junior hockey with the St. John’s Caps before playing briefly in the Avalon East Hockey League with Torbay.
Giving up playing and switching to officiating was easy, according to Winslow who said with a chuckle, “I’m a better ref than a player.”
While he appreciated earning a few bucks as a teenager, he said once he got to the “higher levels” he was officiating because he liked it and liked hanging out with his buddies who were also officials.
Soon after arriving in Houston, Winslow got an e-mail from friend Ted Murphy, a local supervisor of officials for the AHL, who helped him make a connection with the hockey people in the area.
“He put me in touch with the AHL supervisor down here and that’s when I found out what opportunities were available,” explained Winslow.
“There wasn’t a whole lot of hockey in Houston and, what there was of it at the high school level, wasn’t very good. So I indicated I had more interest in doing the lines at the pro level. Once the opportunity came up to do the AHL, I jumped at it,” said Winslow who turns 26 Christmas Day.
“I knew there were a couple of teams that played AHL hockey down here and I figured there may be an opportunity to get in the game because I imagined there would be less people involved in hockey. But I don’t know if I would have actually looked into it if Teddy hadn’t sent me the message.”
All of Winslow’s games are on the road, including San Antonio Rampage and Texas Stars games in Austin, each about three hours from Houston.
While Texas certainly isn’t hockey country, Winslow was surprised at how some people celebrate the games.
“It really caught me off guard to see hundreds in the arena parking lot with tents set up, eating barbecue and drinking beers while their kids were playing ball hockey. They tailgate like the football fans do in their country,” noted Winslow.
He was also surprised the AHL games in the state were drawing five to six thousand fans who were often more vocal than Canadian hockey supporters.
Winslow works for Wood Group Kenny, an oil and gas industry company which, he says, is pretty flexible in terms of working hours when he’s got a mid-week game to do.
“Most of the games are on the weekend, but when there’s a mid-week game, I’ll just work some extra hours to cover any time off,” he explained.
Winslow said he’s aware when doing the lines at AHL games that he’s dealing with professionals and he takes the games very seriously.
“These guys are trying to get to the next level, so there’s a lot more pressure on me to make sure I don’t make mistakes because my mistake might affect them in some way. Of course, guys want to win at the amateur level too and they work hard but it’s not their livelihood.”
Adapting to Houston was made a lot easier, said Winslow, because there were so many Canadians — including a contingent Newfoundlanders — in the area.
“There’s seven or eight of us who play in a couple of rec leagues. Our team recently went to a men’s league tournament in Montreal about a month a go. We hang out together a lot.
“One of the reasons why it was so easy to transition when I moved down here was all the Canadians playing on teams and drinking beer after the games, just like you would do back home in St. John’s.”
As far as his future as an AHL linesman is concerned, Winslow says, “It’s definitely something I’m going to stick with while I’m down here, for sure.”