With a stick or a ref's whistle, Kohler finds success on the ice

January 23, 2003

By KEVIN MINNICK

Courier-Post Staff

 

Playing ice hockey seven days a week, Mark Kohler has a pretty good idea of what the game is all about.

 

Not only does the Bishop Eustace Prep School senior play for one of only two NJSIAA-sanctioned teams in South Jersey, but he competes with the Hollydell Hurricanes at the club level. He's an experienced player a captain who is as serious about his sport as he is taking a test in the classroom.

 

But Kohler wanted more. There had to be more knowledge to be gained. For sure, a high school student couldn't know all of the intricacies.

 

He saw an opportunity to approach the game from a different angle -- as an official.

 

"I had been playing and wanted a better understanding of the game. I saw a flier on the bulletin board at HollyDell (Ice Arena) and refereeing exploded from there," said Kohler, who will take his 3.9 GPA and nearly 1,300 SAT score to Bucknell University as a chemistry major in the pre-med route.

 

"It gave me a new perspective on how the game is played, and the additional ice time was a bonus."

 

As part of the USA Hockey program, the 17-year-old Voorhees resident is a certified Level 3 referee. He has worked high school games and officiated some district and league playoffs. Kohler has also been involved with some national championship events in the Tri-State area.

 

"You take a single-day class, usually from around 8 to 5," he said. "You then have to go back to school each year. Each year, you can move up a level. It just becomes more in-depth.

 

"The only thing holding me back right now is my age. Players and coaches give me a hard time at first because they think I lack the age and ability to control a game. But at the end of the game, coaches admire the job that I've done."

 

When he's not blowing the whistle, Kohler takes the ice as a key player for Bishop Eustace. The Crusaders are considered to be among the state's top programs, playing most of their games against Central and North Jersey schools.

 

Bishop Eustace and St. Augustine are the only state-sanctioned South Jersey schools playing ice hockey, among the 104 NJSIAA schools competing this winter.

 

While others in the region play at the club level, these two are the only ones capable of playing in the Meadowlands for a state championship.

 

Bishop Eustace defeated St. Augustine earlier in the year 4-1. "This season has been so amazing. I really have no complaints," Kohler said.

Bishop Eustace coach Mike Green likes what he's seen in Kohler over the past three seasons.

 

"He's always been a real conscientious and intelligent person and player," Green said. "So whatever he's asked, he gives his best effort toward doing that.

 

"Mark is a great team leader. He's a hard worker and a good defensive player. He's a center, but a good defensive player. I use him as one of our primary penalty killers."

 

Kohler has contributed a handful of goals and assists this season, his biggest goal coming with three seconds remaining against defending public school state champion Brick Township. He's looking forward to playing a lot more hockey -- whether it be with a stick in his hands or a striped shirt on his back.

 

"Obviously, I don't have too many playing years left but I can ref for years to come," said Kohler, who's also involved with sled hockey for handicapped kids at the Skate Zone in Voorhees as part of his service program at Bishop Eustace.

 

"When I apply for a national license, I can ref juniors, college. And if luck rolls my way, I could end up in the NHL."

 

"It's given me a perspective of the game from both sides. When I'm playing, I know what the referee is thinking. And when I'm refereeing, I know what the players are thinking. It's an edge."

 

Reach Kevin Minnick at (856) 486-2424 or kminnick@courierpostonline.com