Growing up in Scarborough, Michael Markovic dreamed of making it to the National Hockey League.
Today, the former Scarborough Young Bruin has realized his dream – only in a different jersey.
“As a kid, everyone wants to make the NHL as a player – that’s what you strive for,” the now-NHL official shared, offering that he never considered officiating while playing.
After spending time with the Wexford Mustangs, Young Bruins, and the Don Mills Flyers, Markovic played for the University of Toronto Varsity Blues from 2010-2015. During that time, he became one of 34 Varsity Blues players to have reached over 100 regular season career points.
It was also during that time that Markovic found himself being nudged in the direction of officiating.
“I was approached by Jonathan Wallace to try it out and that’s where everything stems from,” Markovic explained. “It was another way of staying in the game and being able to stay on the ice with the best players in the world so I’m very fortunate and lucky with the support of my family and my wife, and even the GTHL community.”
Markovic began his officiating career in the GTHL – right at the beginning.
“I started doing [Under-10] games at eight o’clock in the morning and you see a kid coming to the rink with a great big smile and wanting to play hockey – it was awesome and that’s what fueled me. It brought me back to when I was that age,” Markovic said.
Pretty soon, Markovic was officiating Under-16 AAA playoffs, the OHL Cup, and more.
“My wife and I talk about this all the time – when we do things, we do it to be the best that we can possibly be, so the goal once I started officiating was to make it as far as I could and never settle,” he explained. “Once I started being invited to skate those events, I thought maybe there was a chance I could continue – I just put my head down, worked as hard as I could and thankfully the NHL took a chance on me.”
Making the switch from a hockey stick to a whistle didn’t come without its challenges, however.
“As a player, you know nothing,” Markovic laughed. “I thought I knew the game when I played but once you open that rulebook, you realize how many rules and situations there are – that was the hardest thing for me, learning everything that came with it.”
Markovic certainly persevered, after spending time in the Ontario Hockey League and the American Hockey League, came his first NHL game on March 7, 2019 – three years after telling the GTHL: “My future ambitions would be to make it to the NHL to skate on the biggest stage in the world.”
In Detroit with the visiting New York Rangers, Markovic said it was a culmination of 20-plus years of playing, four years of officiating, and all the good and bad times it took to get there.
“It was special – it’s something I look back on and cherish,” Markovic, who was given the opportunity to drop the puck for the game’s opening faceoff, reflected. “It was awesome having my family there because they are the most important part of this whole journey – I get emotional even talking about it… having my wife there was special, who was pregnant with our first son at the time.”
Now, after almost 100 regular season games at hockey’s highest level, Markovic believes there is an important message many still have to learn when it comes to officials.
“We’re humans too – everybody makes mistakes, whether it’s on or off the ice. We’re not trying to miss things out there,” he shared. “It’s a fast game and there’s really no chance for review, especially at the younger levels. Those officials need to get it right within a split second and I would say, 95 out of 100 reactions are right, and if that’s a test, you’re in the top percentile of your peers.”
“It’s never going to be perfect,” Markovic continued. “We strive for that perfection, but I’m hoping people learn that we need to treat officials – humans – with respect and dignity. There is a human element to the game and we need to respect those who get out there, realize it isn’t their full-time gig, and appreciate them for stepping up for the love of the game.”
The challenges, though, have made it worth it for Markovic – especially while continuing to foster that very love of the game he hopes inspires others to consider officiating, too.
“If there’s a love for the game and a will and a want to stay on the ice, then try officiating – it’s the next best thing to playing,” he said. “For me, it was a way to stay in the game and here we are – I’m just grateful for the opportunity.”
MICHAEL MARKOVIC QUICK FACTS
- Scarborough, Ontario native
- Grew up playing in the GTHL (Wexford Mustangs, Scarborough Young Bruins, Don Mills Flyers)
- Played for the University of Toronto Varsity Blues (2010-2015)
- Graduated with a major in Human Geography (2015)
- One of only 34 Varsity Blues players to have reached over 100 regular season career points
- Signed a contract with the Alaska Aces (ECHL) for the remainder of the 2014-15 season
- Started officiating at the age of 25 (signed up for the Canadian School of Hockey Officiating Summer Camp)
- Officiated in the GTHL (U16 AAA playoffs, OHL Cup, OHL Gold Cup), the OHA, the OHL and the AHL
- Made the transition from linesman to referee in 2017
- Invited to 2017 CHL/NHL Officiating Development Camp
- Attended 2018 NHL Exposure Combine in Buffalo
- Offered a minor league referee contract from the NHL at the age of 29
- First NHL game: March 7, 2019 (New York Rangers at Detroit Red Wings)
- As of May 1, 2022: 98 NHL regular season games
Interested in becoming an official? Contact Rob Pilmer at RPilmer@GTHLCanada.com.