By Ross Forman
Former Crystal Lake South teammates and referee partners also were ‘great friends’
Shane Gustafson was walking to class on the campus of Northern Illinois University one afternoon this past April when his phone buzzed that he had a new email. It was from Scott Zelkin, the manager of USA Hockey’s Officiating Development Program, and the subject was: ODP Ben Allison Officiating Award.
Gustafson opened the email immediately. After all, Gustafson and Allison were close friends, former teammates at Crystal Lake South High School and referee pals.
In January, 2015, Allison was hit by an impaired driver while walking across campus at Illinois State University where he was a student. He died days later.
Zelkin was emailing to inform Gustafson that he was the inaugural recipient of the award from the ODP, which was nominated by the ODP captains and voted on by ODP officials who worked a minimum of 15 games in the program this past season.
Gustafson was teary-eyed, emotion-filled at the news, and immediately called his parents because “they both know how close Ben and I were and how much this award would mean to me.”
To put it frankly, Gustafson added: “This award means the world to me.”
“Ben was so close to me, not just on the ice but off it as well,” Gustafson said. “We were such great friends and he was one of the most kind-hearted, funny, hard-working people that I have ever had the pleasure to know. Ben had written a quote on his skates that read, ‘Skate every game like it’s your last,’ and boy did he live by that. He skated his hardest every second of every game. To be selected for an award that represents similar qualities to Ben is truly so humbling and means so much to me.”
Gustafson, 20, lives in Lake in the Hills and is a 2014 CLS graduate, where he was a three-year varsity skater, including twice earning All-Star accolades. He is now a junior at Northern Illinois, working toward a degree in sociology with a minor in child and family studies.
This fall is Gustafson’s ninth season as an official, and it’s his first full-time in the ODP. Thus, he will be working games in the NA3, NAHL, and USHL.
It’s college classes Monday through Thursday, then junior hockey on the weekends.
Last season, Gustafson worked about 85 games for the ODP at the ACHA D1, NA3HL, NAHL, and USHL levels, including the NA3HL Silver Cup Championship Game and NAHL playoffs.
“Being selected for this award is extremely emotional for me,” Gustafson said. “Ben is actually the one who introduced me to the Officiating Development Program and pushed me in the right direction to further my officiating career. I would not be where I am in officiating today if it had not been for Ben’s guidance. I owe so much of my success to Ben.
“When I first heard about the Ben Allison Award, I was ecstatic that there was such an amazing award created to continue Ben’s legacy. While reading the email from Scott Zelkin announcing that I had been selected for the award, I felt as though Ben was looking down on me (and) smiling. The amount of congratulations and kind words that I have received from friends and family in the officiating community and beyond is absolutely incredible. The officiating community is so tight-knit; I am so grateful for all of the kind words.”
USA Hockey formally announced Gustafson as the award-winner on Aug. 11, and he will officially be presented with the award at the 2016 USA Hockey Officiating Development Training Camp, which starts Aug. 29 at USA Hockey Arena in Plymouth, Mich.
The Ben Allison Award is voted on by 150 members of the USA Hockey Officiating Development Program and is given to the official that best represents the characteristics that made Ben a special person and official, including always giving 100 percent on the ice, regardless of the level of the game, and representing USA Hockey in the finest manner. The award will be presented on an annual basis.
A plaque will be on display at USA Hockey’s national office in Colorado Springs, where Shane and all future winners will be recognized.
“On behalf of the IHOA Board of Directors, I would like to congratulate Shane Gustafson for receiving the inaugural Ben Allison Award,” said John Oldenburg, IHOA President. “I am sure receiving this award, which was voted upon by his fellow officials in the USA Hockey ODP, means the world to him.
“Shane is not only an outstanding referee, but also a great person who is always willing to give back. Shane is always there to help IHOA’s young officials learn the skills needed to work higher levels of hockey. This year, as in years past, he is helping with the upcoming seminar season, and the AHAI Referee Development Program.”
Longtime area referee Jack Raslawski added: “Two rinks have Ben Allison’s legacy clearly displayed: the Leaf Center and Poppy Waterman’s rink in the Wisconsin Dells. At the Crystal Lake rink, (Allison’s jersey) No. 36 is on the door to the room for officials and the Zamboni. Big Ben’s legacy will always remain in our hearts.
“Ben’s close friend, Shane Gustafson, winning the inaugural Ben Allison Award, further proves his legacy is burning in all the officials that had an opportunity to work with him. Ben had the heart of a lion and an undefeatable spirit. That spirit lives in all of us who carry ‘Big Ben’ in our hearts and souls.”
Gustafson, like many officials across the country, particularly in Illinois, has a tribute sticker for Allison on his black helmet. In fact, he has two: the BA sticker on the outside of his helmet, and one that says “BEN” on the inside of his helmet. Plus, Gustafson writes “BA” on the tape on his fingers before every game he works. And, before the opening faceoff in every game he works, Gustafson looks up to the sky, “because I know Ben is looking down on me,” he said.
Allison was two years older than Gustafson, yet they were CLS teammates for one season. Allison took Gustafson under his wing on the officiating front, Gustafson said. They officiated together for about eight seasons, about 50 or 60 total games.
The last game that the two worked together was a high school tilt at BMO Harris Bank Center, which they lined together. “Easily, (that was) one of the most fun games I have ever been a part of,” Gustafson said.
“Getting to play hockey with Ben and also getting to officiate with Ben was so awesome. I learned so much from him. But above all of that on the ice, what meant the most to me was the friendship that Ben and I shared. Having a friend like Ben in your life just brings so much extra happiness each and every day. Knowing that he is looking down on me proudly, not only as a fellow official, but as a dear friend means the world to me.”
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.
All photos courtesy of Shane Gustafson
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