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Hockey: Two Brainerd brothers share ice as officials

The Shepherd brothers are Brainerd graudates who know officate hockey games together

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Morgan (right) and Bronson Shepherd officiate a game between the Brainerd Warriors and Northern Lakes Lightning Thursday, Dec. 9, 2021, at Essentia Health Sports Center. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

Whatever sibling rivalry Morgan and Bronson Shepherd have, they don’t show it come game time.

Morgan, 36, and Bronson, 32, are both hockey officials from the lakes area and a part of the Central Lakes Hockey Referee Association. They also referee college games in the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.

“It’s very helpful,” Morgan said of working with his brother. “I’d say being the older brother, we’ve had our battles on the ice, but I think we both know each other and want to do a good job. I think we both understand how each other sees a game and it clicks.”

There are two different types of officials in hockey. The referee wears orange sleeves and calls penalties and does line changes. The linesman doesn’t wear orange and calls offsides, initiates face-offs and icing, but doesn’t call penalties.

On Dec. 9, the two brothers worked together at Essentia Health Sports Center when the Brainerd Warriors hosted the Northern Lakes Lightning in boys hockey. Morgan was the referee and Bronson was the linesman.

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“It’s an absolute blast,” Bronson said of working with his brother. “He’s kind of the main reason I got into reffing. He’s a huge mentor to me and how I’ve grown as an official. We give each other feedback and I think we see the game in a similar way, so it makes things go pretty well and it’s fun to travel with him.”

Morgan was a 2004 Brainerd High School graduate who played on the hockey team and Bronson was a 2008 Brainerd graduate who also played hockey.

Morgan got started officiating after his playing days were over in 2012.

“I just wanted to stay involved in the game,” Morgan said. “I’d been playing hockey since I was four or five years old. Played high school, junior and college hockey and when I got done, I didn’t like mentally playing still after college and wanted to stay in the game.”

Morgan now serves on the board of the Central Lakes Hockey Referee Association.

Bronson started officiating when he lived in the Twin Cities. When he moved back to the lakes area last year he joined the Central Lakes Hockey Referee Association which just started and the two brothers started doing games together.

“I played hockey at Brainerd and at Concordia-Moorhead and (refereeing) was a way to get back into the game,” Bronson said. “My brother Morgan was officiating and he kind of pushed me to do it and it’s been fun. I started doing squirts and now I’m doing college, so it’s been a fun ride.”

Both Morgan and Bronson have found working games together has made their relationship stronger.

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“Spending time with my brother in the car on the way to games and just talking about the game and just being together really,” Morgan said. “If we didn’t ref, we probably wouldn’t spend that much time together, so it’s good to be a part of the game and work with my brother.”

Bronson added: “We talk on the phone like if we don’t do a game together, he’s the first person I call when I get into the car. When he typically doesn’t have a game he’ll watch my game and if I don’t have a game I typically watch his game. We talk hockey a ton and that shows how much we care and how good of a job we want to do. Our relationship has really grown and it’s fun to share a hobby with your brother.”

Morgan said he typically refs two to three high school games a week and four to 10 youth hockey games a week. Typically Bronson and Morgan are paired up for two games a week.

For their day jobs, Morgan works at Bernick’s and Bronson works at Takedown Gym.

Morgan has refereed two state tournaments in his nine years officiating — one girls and one boys. He also worked the U15 National Tournament in Dallas last year for USA hockey.

“You go to all these small rinks and do these big games at small rinks, but you get in front of the Xcel Energy Center and one of the games I had was 19,000 fans for a state semifinal game. It was pretty cool,” Morgan said.

Bronson has officiated section finals, but hopes to get to the state tournament this year.

Both Bronson and Morgan said they’ve heard their fair share of hecklers from parents and fans. The key is blocking it out of their mind during a game.

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“That’s part of the game and part of growing and mentoring officials,” Morgan said. “It’s not for everyone and the biggest thing is blocking that out. Sometimes you can’t block it and things need to be done, but there are a lot of crazies out there.”

Bronson added: “That’s why I think officiating is tough on the younger officials and it’s tough to retain officials and grow areas to actually have games going on. I’ve heard a lot and it is one of those things that as you grow up as an official you tune those things out.”

Morgan serves on the board of the Central Lakes Hockey Referee Association and loves seeing younger referees involved.

“It’s rewarding to work with younger officials and see them grow,” Morgan said. “Their confidence level when they go on the ice from calling their first penalty to calling their 100th penalty. And just seeing the confidence build.”

If anyone is interested in refereeing hockey they can email the Central Lakes Hockey Referee Association at referee@brainerdhockey.com.

CONRAD ENGSTROM may be reached at 218-855-5861 or conrad.engstrom@brainerddispatch.com. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/the_rad34.

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