CHL Car Nuts: Referee Derek Zalaski

Derek Zalaski with 2015 Ford F-150
Derek Zalaski

While referees at the NHL level get paid in the hundreds of thousands, it’s not quite the same case for the zebras that patrol the ice at the Canadian Hockey League Major Junior level.

Derek Zalaski, an 18-year veteran of the CHL, also works as a regional Dealer Sales Manager for Ford Motor Company, in the Edmonton, AB region.

That’s a full-time job, yet Zalaski, 39, still manages to ref 70 games per year, including playoffs. And you know what? That’s fine by him.

“To have a career in the automotive industry as well as (one involving) your passion is an awesome balance,” he says. Oh, and he’s got two kids, too. And, obviously, a very patient wife.

Not only does the job require refs to be at the rink for hours at a time; that wouldn’t be such an issue if you were just frequenting spots in and around your city. In the Western Hockey League (WHL), though, it isn’t like that.

The referees are expected to get themselves to games, and that sometimes means drives that take hours, not minutes, often in adverse conditions. Have you ever tried driving – as a round-trip, I might add – from Edmonton to Spokane, WA by way of Cranbrook, BC? How about in the dead of winter? No? Well, it’s commonplace for Zalaski to undertake drives like that, all to referee a hockey game in one of the highest levels of competition you’ll find in North America.

Derek Zalaski on the ice

Photo courtesy of the Edmonton Oil Kings. Photographer: Andy Devlin

Having said that, the officials will sometimes travel as a team (there are either 1 or 2 refs per WHL game, plus 2 linesmen), which sometimes makes the trip a little easier to manage. Assuming you have the right vehicle, of course; Zalaski’s first car, a brown 1982 Buick LeSabre may not have been ideal for this, but since he’s started working with Ford, he’s had some better options.

“When you’ve got four guys going to ref a hockey game, “ he recounts, “ the Ford Edge is a pretty versatile vehicle for that.” That’s just on one of the Fords he’s had a chance to sample; he’s also spent time behind the wheel of the Explorer, the Expedition, the Flex and the Lincoln MKX and MKS. That’s not a bad lineup; in fact, that’s pretty much a perfect cross section of every SUV or crossover Ford and Lincoln offer.

And, as I’m sure is the case for many recently, his dream car – even though he insists he’s not “much of a dream car guy” – also has a Blue Oval on the snout.

“I’m pretty excited for the release of the Ford GT,” he says of the supercar recently revealed at the 2015 North American International Auto Show.

The car he’s actually primed to take delivery of, however, is much more rooted in reality; at the time of writing, Zalaski is the proud owner of an all-new F-150 – much like the one you see here – powered by an all-new, 2.7-litre EcoBoost V6 engine. Good stuff.

Derek Zalaski on the ice

Photo courtesy of the Edmonton Oil Kings. Photographer: Andy Devlin

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Dan Heyman

Dan Heyman

Dan Heyman is a car guy through-and-through, ever since his first word was “Toyota”. Dan has worked as a full-time automotive journalist since 2010, having driven and written about everything from Abarths to Sierras and tackled race tracks from Texas to Toronto during that time.