Two former North Battleford residents are travelling to Sochi, Russia to play important roles in the Olympic hockey tournament.
Ken and Mark Wheler will be a part of the officiating team the NHL sends to the Olympic games.
Ken, who now lives in Victoria, B.C., has been a full time officiating manager for the NHL for since 2010. His primary role for the league is the scouting and development of officials in the AHL. He also takes in NHL games to perform yearly evaluations of the officials. He said his boss selected him because of his role in scouting and development.
"We'll see some of the European and international talent that is available from an officiating point of view," said Ken.
He also said they can compare how their officiating program "stacks up" to the international programs. Ken will have two jobs at the Olympics: "official video replay person" and game supervisor. His duties as a game supervisor include critiquing officials and nominating them for future assignments. The grades given to officials help to determine who will be officiating the games in the medal round.
Ken was asked to be part of a management group heading to Sochi before the season started in September. He accepted the invitation without hesitation.
"I was in my hotel room in Toronto the night before training camp started," said Ken. "My boss phoned me and said, 'How'd you like to go to the Olympics?' I said, 'Let me think about it for a minute - Okay!' That was pretty much my reaction."
After the quick reaction, Ken still had to make sure there was no conflicts with his family. Once that were sorted out, Ken officially accepted.
Mark, a linesman in the NHL since 1992, did not find out until shortly before Christmas, but the experience of the selection was quite different.
"They basically came out and put out the list," said Mark. "People don't say no to that sort of thing."
Mark joked about the circumstances of how he was selected to head to the Winter Games.
"When the announcement came out, I told people that my mom must have phoned and said, 'Ken can't go if I can't go,'" said Mark. "So that's what I tell people."
When the list of six linesmen and seven referees from the NHL were announced, Mark had other things to focus on.
"When I first heard about it, I said, 'Yeah, that's nice. But we've got a lot of season to go before that.'"
As their departure date approached, the excitement began to build. It will be the first international event for Ken and Mark, who both are looking forward to heading overseas.
"I can't wait for it to start," said Ken. "I'm counting how many more sleeps before we go."
"It's going to be quite an adventure," said Mark.
Despite not having international experience, Mark has been a linesman in important, winner-take-all games. He was involved in game seven of the 2004 Stanley Cup final between the Calgary Flames and the Tampa Bay Lightning, which he said was the "coolest thing" he's done in his career.
"I remember sitting there, thinking before the game that's the game you've wanted to work since you started blowing the whistle and dropping the puck."
One of the concerns heading into the games for some athletes was their safety upon arrival in Sochi. Ken and Mark aren't worried. They both said they trust the NHL's security team that has already done their due diligence, as Ken put it.
That allows the brothers to focus on their job at the Olympics. Ken said it is an unbelievable atmosphere around the hockey venue.
"It is such a great environment with the excitement and diversity of the spectators," said Ken. "It's just a very, very exciting experience. The hockey is tremendous and, having the access we have with our credentials, we're able to go behind the scenes and see everything that is taking place all around the sport."
The excitement of the Olympics has made Mark look back on his career and how far he's come.
"It's a long ways from doing my first game in Battleford when I was 13 years old," said Mark. "To be doing this still for a living and then to be going and doing it over in Russia is really cool."
Ken and Mark will arrive in Sochi early next week. The men's Olympic hockey tournament starts Feb. 12.