By Ross Forman
His 2015-16 season was one that officials can only dream about – big games, hallowed arenas, and a National Championship.
And it all happened in just over three months for Colin Kronforst, 29, who lives in Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood and was finishing his 16th season as a referee, his fifth working NCAA action.
Jump back to Jan. 30. Kronforst was officiating the Michigan-Penn State game at Madison Square Garden in New York City. “It gives you the chills the moment you walk into MSG, but being escorted to the locker rooms was a surreal experience,” he said. “The walls in every hallway are full of photos of the most famous moments in sporting events held at MSG throughout the last 100 years. It really opens your eyes as to how historic and iconic that venue is.”
Ultimately it was then-sixth-ranked Wolverines coming from behind with four unanswered goals to earn a 6-3 win over then-No. 15 Penn State.
Flash forward to March 12. Kronforst – who works as an Investment Supervisor at Mediavest|Spark – was on the ice when the University of Minnesota won the Big Ten regular-season championship on the final weekend of the season over arch-rival, Wisconsin.
On March 25, Kronforst officiated the Northeast Regional semifinal, Harvard at host Boston College and he then worked the NCAA Regional Championship between Boston College and Minnesota-Duluth the next night, held at DCU Arena in Worcester, MA.
Then, on April 9, Kronforst officiated the Frozen Four National Championship Game, North Dakota vs. Quinnipiac at Amalie Arena in Tampa Bay, Fla.
Without a doubt, Kronforst had a dream 2015-16 season.
“I’m very thankful when it comes to the assignments I was selected for this (past season, including) an NCAA Regional Championship and an NCAA Championship,” he said. “There are several officials worthy of working the Frozen Four, not only from the B1G, but the other conferences as well. It was a very special achievement (being selected to referee the Frozen Four) as I’ve been watching the tournament religiously since I started playing hockey 20 years ago. I had always heard the Frozen Four was a special event when it comes to the overall fan experience, but I never imagined it’d come close to what it lived up to.
“Having been to several Chicago Blackhawks Stanley Cup games, I’d rank the (NCAA) Championship Game’s atmosphere when North Dakota won right up there with some Blackhawks’ Stanley Cup victories.”
Kronforst – who graduated from St. Viator in Arlington Heights in 2005 and Northeastern Illinois University in 2010 – officiated the Michigan-Michigan State “Winter Classic” at Soldier Field in Chicago in December, 2014.
His National Championship experience this past April also included…golfing, another longtime passion of his. Former NHL referee Don Koharski took Kronforst and others golfing at his country club in Tampa Bay. Kronforst even rode in the golf cart with Koharski, who he tagged as, “one of the most authentic and personable people I have ever met.”
Kronforst said working the Division 1 National Championship has been a goal of his since he started officiating high levels of hockey. “With North Dakota playing in the game, it made the event that much better of an experience as they have, by far, the most prevalent and loudest fan base in college hockey,” he said.
Kronforst assists IHOA in its annual preseason seminars, but unfortunately does not have the time anymore to officiate local games.
“I think the biggest change I’ve made from two seasons ago to this season is performing consistently at the highest level every night,” he said. “Technological advancements are becoming a threat to officiating in all sports because there is an HD camera from every angle in the arena. So not only when we determine what is and isn’t a penalty, we also need to determine that the TV audience/our bosses are going to see why that’s a penalty from every angle they’re provided within the blink of an eye. Another thing I would say I’ve improved on is, managing the ‘big moments’ of the game, when the level of intensity and arena’s atmosphere demands you to be calm and collected and requires precise judgement and accurate decision making.”
Kronforst will step away from the sport for a couple months over the summer to help re-energize himself for the 2016-17 grind. And also to work on his golf game.
He’ll be back on the ice for college games in October.
“My goal every year is to have my best game every night (beginning with the preseason) and that won’t change this (upcoming) year,” he said. “When you execute that kind of consistency, it makes my boss’s decision easy when it comes to playoff assignments. With the Frozen Four being held for the first time in my hometown of Chicago at the United Center, I’m even more motivated than ever to prove myself again and earn the opportunity to get back to the Frozen Four. I’m really excited that Chicago is the host as people here truly have no idea how good these NCAA Division I teams are. I’m confident that they’re going to find that the level of play and intensity isn’t far off from the NHL.”
Ross Forman has written about Illinois high school hockey for more than 15 years, and is the only sportswriter to have covered Illinois High School hockey every year during that stretch. He played locally and then at Indiana University before becoming a referee. Ross was a referee for the State Championship game several years ago at the United Center. Contact Ross by email at Rossco814@aol.com.