2018 IIHF Bio Series: John Cerza

John Cerza
Officials’ Category ~ Class of 2018


John Cerza always enjoyed the thrill of his dad taking him to the “Madhouse on Madison”, the old Chicago Stadium, and seeing Keith Magnuson be the first one up the stairs onto the ice. They had seats in the first balcony, second row, right on the Blackhawks’ blue-line. John began skating early and by 10 he was playing for the Palatine Norsemen. At 12, John saw an advertisement about becoming a hockey official and the opportunity to make some spending money. Passing the requirements, he became an approved official for the Amateur Hockey Association of the United States in 1975.

Because of his skating ability and positive attitude, John received game assignments from many different supervisors in the northwest suburbs. The majority of those games were played in buildings that closed years ago, such as the Arlington Ice Spectrum, the Polar Dome, Randhurst’s Twin Ice Forum and both the rinks called Woodfield (yes, there were games played at the rink in the mall during the late 1970’s). Although he loved playing, John realized that he probably would not be big enough to compete at a high level, so he committed himself to officiating. John’s mom and dad were as committed as he was, driving him from rink to rink, and over forty years later John is one of the most respected hockey officials and instructors in the Midwest.

Forty years of officiating, at all levels of play, makes for lifelong memories. In the early days, John skated many assignments with another young official from the Palatine organization, Andy McElman. They would officiate John’s brother’s games and they could hear John’s mom yelling in her high-pitched voice when she did not like a call. Andy and John would smile at each other, knowing it was part of the game and that they were having a great time out on the ice. Andy went on to officiate in the National Hockey League for over twenty years.

After John graduated from college he was officiating the highest levels of amateur hockey in our area as one of the youngest members of the Illinois Chapter of The National Ice Hockey Officials Association. John says that he really learned how to be a referee by skating in the old Continental League and being mentored by “legends” such as Paul Ciancanelli, Buddy Monaco, Don Olynyk, Joe Prescott and other fine officials. He learned how to handle various difficult situations and de-escalate altercations which were a staple of the Continental League.

John was selected to referee in state, regional and national championships as well as officiating in the International Hockey League and the Central Collegiate Hockey Association. After his college graduation, he was selected for one of the first National Officiating Camps held in Colorado Springs. In 1991 he fondly remembers walking up the same steps as Keith Magnuson at the old Chicago Stadium as he officiated the high school championship game.

John accepted an offer for a challenging managerial training program with Jewel-Osco, but also found the time to remain on the ice. In spite of a demanding work schedule, the end of each season found John Cerza being selected to officiate a national championship somewhere in the country. In 2007, he travelled to officiate the Mexican National Championships as an ambassador for USA Hockey in partnership with the Mexican Hockey program.

John married his wife LizAnn in 1992 and they have two accomplished daughters, Lauren and Melissa. Lauren took the demanding gymnastic and golf route, and Melissa learned how to skate and competed through high school on a synchronized skating team where she traveled often internationally representing Team USA. The support and encouragement from all of his family from the early days with mom and dad, to LizAnn and the girls watching games currently, has allowed John to continue to enjoy his passion to officiate.

John has had a fine career out on the ice, but he is also very proud of many years as an instructor, mentor and evaluator. Selected in 1987 to attend the National Seminar Instructor Training at the Olympic Training Center, he was part of the second class of USA Hockey Certified Instructor Graduates. Each year, John is a valued instructor for local seminars. He skates with new officials in their first games as a Mentor and prides himself on honest and direct feedback when evaluating officials as an IHOA evaluator as well as his mentor status as he skates with the upcoming younger officials.

John’s love of hockey continues to grow as the years and decades pass by. His hope is to continue to give back to Illinois hockey by teaching and mentoring the officials of tomorrow.


NOTES: The 2018 IHHF Induction Dinner will be held in their honour on Sunday, January 27, 2019 at the Belvedere Banquet Hall located at 1170 West Devon Avenue in Elk Grove Village beginning at 5:00 pm. Tickets are available by contacting Norm Spiegel at 847/269-2922 or e-mail Norm at jacole@comcast.net.

The Hall of Fame was established to recognize and honor the tremendous contributions of individuals who, through their dedication and tireless efforts, helped to pave the way for the future generations of kids and adults to enjoy the great sport of ice hockey.

The mission statement of the Illinois Hockey Hall of Fame is as follows:
“To honor the excellence of those individuals who, through their exceptional endeavors both on and off the ice, have contributed in an extraordinary way to enhance the sport and image of hockey in Illinois.”

The IHHF Selection Committee consists of all of the living past and present presidents of the Amateur Hockey Association Illinois, Inc. Please click HERE for further information.



Categories: Hockey Headlines, IHOA, Illinois Hockey, Illinois Hockey Hall of Fame, Leadership in the News

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