2022 wjc fin cze officiating kyle kowalski

A black and white balancing act

With a full-time job, being a full-time master’s student and officiating for the WHL on his plate, Kyle Kowalski is a busy man, but he wouldn’t want it any other way

Shannon Coulter
August 12, 2022

Working a full-time job while officiating can be a tricky balancing act. But what if you also add in being a full-time master’s student into the equation?

Edmonton, Alta., native Kyle Kowalski is a commercial banker by day and is in the middle of completing a master of business administration degree online on top of officiating with the Western Hockey League (WHL). How does he do it?

“I got to be honest, I don’t know how I balance it,” he says with a chuckle.

Although Kowalski didn’t get his start in officiating until he was about 24 years old, he had knowledge about the responsibilities of the position from a family connection.

“My father was an official [with] Hockey Alberta,” he says. “I would follow him along to the hockey games and I would go watch the game that he’d be reffing. But I was always of the mindset of playing. I never ever envisioned this occurring.”

After he was finished playing junior hockey in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League and Alberta Junior Hockey League, Kowalski took an opportunity to start his officiating journey while attending Grant MacEwan University so he could stay connected to the sport he loves.

“I wanted to stay involved in the game and it was just a way for me to get back into hockey,” he says. “It’s the greatest game on earth. Let’s be honest, it’s the best… You give back and it’d give you so much more than what you could ever expect.”

In his early days in stripes, he got a lot of advice from a veteran in officiating: his father.

“He would come watch and he would say, ‘try this, do this. Maybe give this a try. Hey, this happened, maybe try this,’” the 36-year-old says. “He was a big influence early on to get me going.”

Kowalski initially started officiating out of the south-east zone in Edmonton, then worked his way into the WHL from there. Although he already was balancing a full-time job with officiating, when the COVID-19 pandemic began, he saw it as an opportunity to continue to develop personally and professionally by returning to school.

“Continuous improvement on the ice as an official is extremely important, however continuous improvement off the ice is extremely important as well,” he says. “Pursing that MBA has equipped me with a range of tools that assist me in becoming a better employee… but it also assists me in being a better person, both on the ice and off the ice.”

The support to pursue further education from both his employer, RBC, and the WHL have also aided in the process of balancing his commitments.

“It’s easy to kind of manage all three when you have that support,” he says.

So, what does managing a full-time job, full-time schooling and an officiating career look like? A typical weekend for Kowalski will start by working a full day for his job. Following the end of his workday, he will travel to the rink to officiate a game and squeeze some school work in between.

If he has to fly to a game on the weekend, his schoolwork comes with him.

“If I’m sitting in the airport, I’m doing schoolwork. If I’m sitting at the hotel, I’ll put out the schoolwork and then I’ll get ready, take some time before I got to go to my game.”

Kowalski will also bring his work phone with him on travel weekends to assist clients while he is on the road. Overall, he says prioritizing and time management are the keys to his success, as well as ensuring you’re having fun and enjoying yourself.

“As crazy as it sounds, I love how hectic this is,” he says. “I mean, sometimes I get worn out, but I love the challenge and that’s what I love about officiating is the challenge. It’s the camaraderie.”

Although there are times where people don’t understand how Kowalski manages his balancing act, he believes he wouldn’t be as successful if he only pursed one of his three responsibilities.

“It drives me when you have to time manage and prioritize,” he says. “It really dials you in and it makes you focus, like, ‘hey, I got to get this done today. I’m not going to procrastinate.’”

With 11 years of officiating under his belt, his experience helped him to earn his spot at the IIHF World Junior Championship for the second year in a row. Although the 2022 tournament in December was cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Kowalski is excited to be back in his hometown for a third time to officiate the rescheduled event in August.

“It’s an opportunity that I’m extremely grateful for and I’m very privileged,” he says. “I’m very lucky to be in this position.”

Kowalski may have never pictured his hockey journey turning from player to official, but he continues to work hard every day both on and off the ice.

“I never made it this far in my dreams. It’s incredible. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience, no question about it.”

For more information:

Esther Madziya
Manager, Communications
Hockey Canada

(403) 284-6484 

Spencer Sharkey
Manager, Communications
Hockey Canada

(403) 777-4567

Jeremy Knight
Manager, Corporate Communications
Hockey Canada

(647) 251-9738

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