Working a full-time job while officiating can be a tricky balancing act.
But what if you also add in being a full-time master’s student into the
Edmonton, Alta., native Kyle Kowalski is a commercial banker by day and is
in the middle of completing a master of business administration degree
online on top of officiating with the Western Hockey League (WHL). How does
he do it?
“I got to be honest, I don’t know how I balance it,” he says with a
Although Kowalski didn’t get his start in officiating until he was about 24
years old, he had knowledge about the responsibilities of the position from
a family connection.
“My father was an official [with] Hockey Alberta,” he says. “I would follow
him along to the hockey games and I would go watch the game that he’d be
reffing. But I was always of the mindset of playing. I never ever
envisioned this occurring.”
After he was finished playing junior hockey in the Manitoba Junior Hockey
League and Alberta Junior Hockey League, Kowalski took an opportunity to
start his officiating journey while attending Grant MacEwan University so
he could stay connected to the sport he loves.
“I wanted to stay involved in the game and it was just a way for me to get
back into hockey,” he says. “It’s the greatest game on earth. Let’s be
honest, it’s the best… You give back and it’d give you so much more than
what you could ever expect.”
In his early days in stripes, he got a lot of advice from a veteran in
officiating: his father.
“He would come watch and he would say, ‘try this, do this. Maybe give this
a try. Hey, this happened, maybe try this,’” the 36-year-old says. “He was
a big influence early on to get me going.”
Kowalski initially started officiating out of the south-east zone in
Edmonton, then worked his way into the WHL from there. Although he already
was balancing a full-time job with officiating, when the COVID-19 pandemic
began, he saw it as an opportunity to continue to develop personally and
professionally by returning to school.
“Continuous improvement on the ice as an official is extremely important,
however continuous improvement off the ice is extremely important as well,”
he says. “Pursing that MBA has equipped me with a range of tools that
assist me in becoming a better employee… but it also assists me in being a
better person, both on the ice and off the ice.”
The support to pursue further education from both his employer, RBC, and
the WHL have also aided in the process of balancing his commitments.
“It’s easy to kind of manage all three when you have that support,” he
So, what does managing a full-time job, full-time schooling and an
officiating career look like? A typical weekend for Kowalski will start by
working a full day for his job. Following the end of his workday, he will
travel to the rink to officiate a game and squeeze some school work in
If he has to fly to a game on the weekend, his schoolwork comes with him.
“If I’m sitting in the airport, I’m doing schoolwork. If I’m sitting at the
hotel, I’ll put out the schoolwork and then I’ll get ready, take some time
before I got to go to my game.”
Kowalski will also bring his work phone with him on travel weekends to
assist clients while he is on the road. Overall, he says prioritizing and
time management are the keys to his success, as well as ensuring you’re
having fun and enjoying yourself.
“As crazy as it sounds, I love how hectic this is,” he says. “I mean,
sometimes I get worn out, but I love the challenge and that’s what I love
about officiating is the challenge. It’s the camaraderie.”
Although there are times where people don’t understand how Kowalski manages
his balancing act, he believes he wouldn’t be as successful if he only
pursed one of his three responsibilities.
“It drives me when you have to time manage and prioritize,” he says. “It
really dials you in and it makes you focus, like, ‘hey, I got to get this
done today. I’m not going to procrastinate.’”
With 11 years of officiating under his belt, his experience helped him to
earn his spot at the IIHF World Junior Championship for the second year in
a row. Although the 2022 tournament in December was cut short due to the
COVID-19 pandemic, Kowalski is excited to be back in his hometown for a
third time to officiate the rescheduled event in August.
“It’s an opportunity that I’m extremely grateful for and I’m very
privileged,” he says. “I’m very lucky to be in this position.”
Kowalski may have never pictured his hockey journey turning from player to
official, but he continues to work hard every day both on and off the ice.
“I never made it this far in my dreams. It’s incredible. It’s a
once-in-a-lifetime experience, no question about it.”