Beyond the Whistle: Sondermeyers in Stripes

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As a player, Owen Sondermeyer knew what it was like to share the ice with his dad, Robert. Playing for the North York Knights ‘A’ team, Robert had been there at practices and games as Owen’s coach and manager over the years. But during an Under-14 select game, where both Owen and Robert were officiating together, the teacher became the student.  

“I was getting ready to drop the puck at the arena on the ice. We were about to start the game, so I went to centre ice,” Owen recalled of the game with his dad. “And he (Robert) was just standing at the bottom of the circle in one of the end zones. I’m like, ‘What are you doing?’ Because he was standing in probably the worst spot he could be.”  

For Robert, it was a funny – and unique – father-son moment.

“So he’s just standing there looking at me, waiting until I figure it out,” Robert shared. “The timekeeper knew us as well at the time, too. She was laughing as [Owen] was telling me where I was supposed to stand on the face-off because I forgot.” 

The amusing situation underscored the surprising reality that it was Owen who had gotten his dad into officiating – not the other way around. Owen, alongside his older brother Quinn, got their officiating careers informally started refereeing the mini-games at the end of the Learn to Play program that Robert managed for the Knights organization.  

Quinn would be the first Sondermeyer inspired to officially wear the black and white stripes.  

“It got me to skate. I got to watch a game and also make sure that it’s played fairly,” said Quinn. “Owen followed suit sometime after, wanting not just a job, but a job that would be fun, keep him active, and give back to the community that has given him so much.”  

“I thought it would be something good to do with my time and it would be fun to help out the communities I played for like the Knights, helping out at Willowdale, North Toronto and Leaside,” Owen added. “It’s just great to give back to them because they helped me a lot.”  

As Owen’s motivation to officiate was clear, it transitioned to the next line of thought: if he was going to attend the clinics and check the necessary administrative boxes to become an official, why not bring dad along to join him?  

For Robert, having only one of four kids at home with him made it an easy decision. 

“I’ve been coaching the teams for a long time,” Robert explained. “When I was coaching the teams I would have to referee scrimmages, so I could already do the basics. I enjoy doing it and I figured it’d be a good way to get some more exercise.”  

Now three Sondermeyers wear the stripes, each with their own unique reasons to begin, but inspired by one another to start.  

Together this past summer, all three participated in the GTHL’s 2023 Referee Summer Camp, marking the assumed to be first time a father-and-sons trio have attended the camp.  

Robert was cognizant that sometimes kids don’t always want to be around their parents and was sure to give them their space in both the classroom and on-ice portions of the camp. For Owen, however, it was an opportunity for a different on-ice dynamic between father and son. 

“It was definitely different because instead of having him coaching us, it was more of us working together to try and be more consistent, learn all the rules and improve on our skating ability,” Owen shared.  

Being at three different stages of their respective officiating careers, each Sondermeyer highlighted certain aspects of the camp that helped their position. Robert mentioned the guest speakers were all experienced officials themselves who were able to answer the questions he and other members of the camp had. Owen really enjoyed the opportunity to officiate a U13 ‘A’ game alongside older, more experienced officials who were able to give on-the-fly feedback as needed. Quinn, the veteran of the three, saw the camp as an opportunity to resharpen his skills after being away at school while catching up with familiar faces. 

“Getting to go on the ice and learn together was a very nice experience,” Quinn said. “Me personally, I’m very introverted so having that family member if you have any questions, just initially ask them and if they don’t have the answer, then you go to staff.” 

Gordie Howe famously played with two of his sons on the Hartford Whalers of the World Hockey Association (WHA) — is there a chance the GTHL sees all three Sondermeyers officiating a game together in the near future?  

Not quite yet, as Quinn is a Level Two official, and Owen is currently a Level One. However, they have recently officiated U8 Competitive Development Stream (CDS) modified ice games together. Quinn and Owen managing the games while Robert jumped back and forth to report penalties and help the goalies with equipment issues.  

“It’s something that I would like to continue doing. At the end of my work day or on weekends, because I love the sport very much,” Quinn shared. “Seeing the team’s excitement for when they win, brings me back to when I was playing hockey, so t’s something that I could see doing for as long as I can skate.” 

Check out the 2024 Winter Breakout Magazine for all these stories and more! 

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