At the rink, Cody Wanner has the best seat in the house. No, he’s not sitting on the bench, in the press box, or even in the front row, but he is always at ice level.
In fact, he’s on the ice. Wearing the black and white stripes.
Wanner, 25, is a linesman and he’s come a long way since his first assignments at Rod Brind’Amour Arena.
The Campbell River native, who now lives on the Lower Mainland, has gone further than he ever imagined hockey would take him.
On Sept. 14 of this year, Wanner was hired by the Western Hockey League. He worked his first regular season game on Oct. 5 in front of 4,600 fans – including his mom, little brother, fiance and other family – at the Pacific Coliseum when the Vancouver Giants hosted the Prince George Cougars.
Wanner followed that up with three more Giants games through the month of November and on Dec. 28 he will be lining a Royals game in Victoria.
He credits his success to hard work and the support of his hometown.
“If it wasn’t for the people back in Campbell River that helped me get to where I am, I wouldn’t be here,” said Wanner, who gives back to his hometown whenever he gets the chance. “Whenever I come home to Campbell River I try to stop by the rink to see if there is a hockey game going on so I can watch the officials. If I can help a younger official even a little bit, I am happy.”
By sharing his wisdom, Wanner is paying it forward just like those before him.
When Wanner was 14, Mike Lytwynec, a Campbell River Minor Hockey officiating mentor at the time, got Wanner into a midget Tyee rep game which set in motion his rise through the ranks.
“He pulled me aside and gave me some pointers, what to do, and what not to do. I ended up having a great game,” Wanner recalled. “The following season I was up at Strathcona Gardens watching a Campbell River Storm Junior B exhibition game when I was asked if I’d be interested in lining a Junior B game. I nervously said yes and I was assigned the home opener a week later.
“I still recall my stepdad driving me to the rink, being as nervous as ever, and what was a five minute drive seemed like an eternity,” Wanner adds. “That was the beginning of my above minor officiating career, and without these people giving me the opportunities I was given, I don’t think I would be where I am now.”
Wanner also credits his mom, Donna Walters – and a desire for cash – for giving him the push he needed.
“When I was 12 I wanted to buy things like any kid wanted to, whether it was Lego, hockey cards, model cars,” Wanner said. “But money didn’t grow on trees and my mother made sure I understood that. I was raised to understand that in order to get what you want, you need to work for it.”
So Wanner signed up for an officials clinic put on by the Campbell River Minor Hockey Association.
It paid off – between the ages of 12 to 15, Wanner reffed and lined several minor hockey games through novice to midget, at both the house and rep hockey levels. Two years later, it was time for Wanner to make a difficult decision; while he loved being on the ice, he knew it wasn’t going to pay the bills.
“If there was one thing my mom knew, it was that I was going to go to school after I graduated from Timberline Secondary in 2007,” Wanner said. “At this time I had been lining Junior B hockey for three years and I wasn’t going to be able to make a living from this, so I needed to figure out what I wanted to do with my life.”
So, after successfully achieving his drafting certificate from North Island College in 2009, Wanner applied and was accepted to BCIT for the Architecture and Building Engineering Technology course. But Wanner wasn’t ready to abandon officiating.
While in Burnaby, Wanner was introduced to senior level officiating staff and was put into games in the Pacific Junior Hockey League (PJHL) (Junior B) and the British Columbia Hockey League (BCHL) (Junior A).
By the end of the 2013/2014 season, Wanner had 10 seasons of Junior B and six seasons of Junior A under his belt and he could feel his hopes of moving up to the WHL slipping away.
“I had worked over 500 Junior B games in my career and my hopes of achieving my goals of working in the Western Hockey League seemed to be fading,” Wanner said.
But then came a break through.
This past spring, Wanner applied to attend the WHL Development camp in Calgary. Wanner was accepted and attended the camp in June. But there was one more hurdle.
“Although I had more experience than the average 25-year-old, and the skills to work in the WHL, I was not physically fit enough to work in the WHL,” Wanner said. “I had some work to do. So when I got home from camp, I went straight to the gym to see my trainer Mark Pearce, a referee in the WHL.”
With the help of Pearce, Wanner lost 20 pounds and got himself into shape. Then in early August, Wanner received an email with the good news – he was invited to attend the WHL linesman main camp, and then another, saying that he had received two exhibition games in Vancouver.
Now three months into his new job, Wanner said the best part is being able to help aspiring hockey players develop and learn the game. Being front and centre at a hockey game also doesn’t hurt.
“I get the best seat in the house to watch some of the best hockey players in the world play the game that they love,” Wanner said. It’s also been a great bonding experience.
“My best friends are guys that I have officiated with all of my life,” Wanner said. “The road trips and situations we get put in on the ice really help us bond and become a team.
“Without them, it would be very hard to do my job and I trust them with my life out there.”