Like most boys who grew up in Saskatchewan, Tannum Wyonzek dreamt of playing in the NHL some day. But Wyonzek, son of Pat and Karen Wyonzek, and grandson of Anne and the late Henry Wyonzek of Canora, made the decision when he reached the midget age group to give up playing and focus on officiating, which he believed would give him a better chance to stay in the game and pursue his NHL dream.
That decision looks to have him headed in the right direction. Wyonzek has begun a new step in his journey, as a linesman working in the ECHL and AHL, two professional leagues where he is just one phone call away from joining the NHL.
“I enjoy being in the game. I always loved playing and it’s fun to be in the game at such a high level,” said Wyonzek. “I could get a call from the NHL at any time. About six people got hired by the NHL last year, including two full-time guys, which is what I am.”
His first AHL game was in Charlotte, North Carolina on November 6, when the Checkers hosted the Lehigh Valley Phantoms at the Bojangles Coliseum, Wyonzek’s first ECHL game was on October 23 in Orlando, Florida.
“I’m working mainly in the Carolinas and Florida, maybe into Georgia at some point,” reported Wyonzek. “It’s a lot warmer down here than Saskatchewan, but the atmosphere at games is great, it really feels like a pro game. The way of interacting with everyone is more man-to-man, on a professional level. The level of hockey is higher. The players are big boys and they don’t miss many passes. It’s fast, end-to-end action.”
Having experienced the game from both sides, Wyonzek said playing and officiating are each very challenging.
“It’s hard to say which is tougher. As a linesman, I’m out there for all 60 minutes of the game. I don’t get to rest on the bench and I have to be sharp mentally all the time. But on the other hand, I’m not taking hits like the players.”
Prior to the pandemic, Wyonzek worked in the WHL for four-and-a-half seasons, part of the Canadian Hockey League, which is the highest level of junior hockey in Canada. He officiated a number of games with his older brother Tarrington when they were both in the league together.
“I think Dad was at every game I’ve worked with my brother, and I know I’ve seen him with tears in his eyes, so that’s pretty special,” said Tannum at the time.
One of his highlights was working as a linesman in the World Under-17 tournament in November of 2017 in Fort St. John and Dawson Creek, B.C. In an interview after the tournament, he said it turned out to be an awesome experience.
“The tournament lasted for about two weeks, and I was doing games almost daily,” Tannum said.
“The first game was between Russia and Sweden. It was a whole new experience for me because of the language barrier. So I had to use body language to get them to understand me. I learned pretty quick that hockey has its own language.”
At the end of the tournament, Tannum was rewarded for the quality of his work in previous games by being chosen to officiate the gold medal game between Canada and the United States.
After completing his time in the WHL, Tannum signed his first contract to join the ECHL/AHL in January 2021, since the season was starting late. But then everything fell through due to the pandemic. Wyonzek officiated a few games in Canada, which turned out to be the extent of his 2020/21 season.
“But they kept in contact with me, and I signed in August to come down to the ECHL and AHL in October,” Tannum recalled. “I’m really grateful for all the years of help from countless people along the way to get me to this point. My brother Tarrington worked here before me, and everyone that knew him said I had big shoes to fill, that he was the ‘gold standard.’ Tarrington just told me, ‘Do what you’ve always done,’ so I appreciate him showing his confidence in me.”
Tannum said this new opportunity is extra motivation to keep working as hard as he can to make it to the NHL.
“I probably need to work on the little nuances of the game that are tighter or at a different standard in pro hockey,” he shared. “One example is faceoffs. The players need to have their feet where they need to be, the sticks are where they need to be. In junior, it was just a matter of getting the puck down quickly and to be fair, not necessarily perfect. In pro hockey, they expect more.”
At the age of 24, Tannum is among the younger on-ice officials in the ECHL/AHL.
“My plan is to give it all I have for as long as I’m down here, and hope the NHL looks my way.”
Wyonzek is living in Jacksonville, Fla., but admits he hasn’t had much time to enjoy the city, since he’s been on the road a lot.
“I know there’s definitely some good food here, especially good Mexican and Cuban restaurants. I’ve heard good things about the malls here, and I would really like to check out the beaches when I have more time.”
Tarrington and their Dad watch Tannum’s games together online whenever they can, and the two brothers usually talk or text at least once a week.
“Growing up it was tough for me, because it felt like he was my hardest critic. But now it’s a lot easier, and he’s always ready to help me out,” said Tannum.