Ryan Townsend – premier referee in Las Vegas
By Bethany Drysdale
Hockey has a way of bringing out the best in a person. Sometimes answering a higher calling is a challenge many do not believe they can do. Whether it is taking on the enemy as a soldier or becoming a hockey referee, the challenge is not for everyone.
One of the best in our Vegas Hockey community I would like to spotlight is Army Specialist Ryan Townsend. Ryan began playing at age 10.
“I was in PE classes when I played street hockey for the first time. I absolutely loved it. My classmate Mike Paglini told me he played this as a sport and I should start playing.
“I started with roller hockey at the Las Vegas Sports Park and quickly made the move to ice hockey. I fell in love with the sport. At an early age I loved it because it was something different than what the rest of my classmates were doing. I loved the rink. I spent every Friday and Saturday night at public skate for as long as I could remember.
“My parents owned their own business and when life got busy. I would put half my equipment on, throw on my roller blades, and skate to the rink. I would put my ice skates on and practice for a few hours then roller blade back home.
“As I got older I loved the sport because there is always something to be working on to get better. You can’t ever get complacent. I loved the locker room. My best friends today are guys I grew up playing with; Robbie Silvernail, Kyle Clay, Ryan Sutliffe, Bryce Reddick. The bonds you form with teammates in hockey is unbreakable compared to any other friend relationship you make in school or work. I still play and officiate because of the locker room time with the guys and when you’re out on the ice you can escape from reality for awhile.”
Ryan is a successful player as well as referee. I had the opportunity to watch him call the first UNLV home games of the 2019-20 season. He is in peak shape and does not miss a thing on the ice. His passion for hockey is due to his parents encouraging him.
“My Mom and Dad get all the credit for my success. They gave me the opportunity at 15 years old to play for the Okanagan Hockey Academy in Penticton, B.C. Canada. I went from practicing two or three times a week and 30 game schedule in Las Vegas to practice and the gym five days a week and a 60+ game schedule in Canada. My parents always supported me and my dream to play at the highest levels.
“The most standout coach I played for was Pokey Reddick. Pokey was a great players coach. He always had his finger on the pulse of the team. Playing for the Outlaws my senior year of high school was my favorite season of hockey. As an official I owe my success to Adam Hendren. He mentored me from day one I put on the black and white stripped jersey at 13 years old. Adam was the one who saw my love for officiating and got me into the USA Hockey officiating development program.”
Wearing the stripes of a referee has been and continues to be a strength for Townsend. When many pursue their careers in hockey, they often forget there are other avenues to success. Townsend’s success is measured in many ways, including the opportunity to call games at different levels of hockey.
“I started really young, I think 13 or 14. The Fiesta Ice Rink was holding an officiating seminar that most of my teammates were attending and I didn’t want to miss out on time with the boys so I attended. From there I always stayed with it for extra money while playing junior hockey and in college. After I graduated college I started working a lot of UNLV and WSHL games. I was loving every moment of it. Adam Hendren could tell my passion for the game. Adam got me into the USA Hockey Western Regional Officiating Summer Camp. At the camp scouts of the USA Hockey Officiating Development Program (ODP) approached me to work for the ODP in the NAHL and USHL.
“We worked two season for the ODP. Notable milestones were skating in the NAHL and USHL playoffs. Working my first pro game in the SPHL and being invited to the National Officiating Summer Camp, as well as, the Program of Merit. I was then hired by the ECHL and AHL. In that first season we skated in over 110 ECHL games and skated the first and second round of the ECHL and AHL playoffs. During that time I felt the calling to service and something bigger than myself. The events of Oct. 1st weighed heavily on me and I wanted to have the training and skills to react to the changing climate of the Nation.”
Hockey prepared Ryan Townsend for many opportunities, but his greatest achievement came when he joined the Army as a 68W, combat medic.
Ryan is not only a brother in arms, but has shown what it means to be at the top of his game while serving his country. “I attended BCT at Ft. Sill, OK. My first night was November 19th where I learned just how cold Oklahoma can be. We spent nights in the field with just a sleeping bag and bivy cover in 10 degree weather. I was fortunate enough to graduate as the Distinguished Honor Grad for exceeding the standard in academics, leadership, and physical fitness.
“We attended AIT at Ft. Sam Houston in San Antonio, TX. I graduated June 14th with the MOS as a 68W Combat Medic. I graduated on the Deans list and as the Delta Company Leader of the cycle. At BCT I led a platoon of 35 soldiers. I used the experiences from being the captain of several of the teams I played for as a backbone to my military leadership.
“During AIT I led a Company of 230 soldiers. My time as a hockey player taught me how to be calm in high stress situations which there are no shortages of being a combat medic. It taught me how to be organized and prepared. Hockey easily has the most equipment necessary to play any sport.
“As a medic our most important item is our trauma bag. Each piece of medical equipment is necessary to saving a solider life on the battle field. It is vitally important to keep my trauma bag stocked and organized. Most operations are conducted during the night and if a solider goes down I need to be able to treat that soldier with little to no light. That requires me to know where every piece of my gear is without the use of sight.
“Hockey and officiating is very physically demanding. The game of hockey made me realize I can push myself far beyond what I thought were my previous limits. Those limits were tested in the military everyday when you wear a 8lbs helmet, 20lbs ballistic vest and 50+ lbs of medical and personal gear. I am currently an E-4 Specialist and going through the Basic Leaders Course to promote to Sergeant. My immediate future plans are to promote to Sergeant, earn my Expert Field Medical Badge, and attend Airborne School.”
The future is very bright for SPC Townsend both on the ice and off. As for what he plans to do in the future with his Army career, Townsend replied, “Personally I’m enjoying life at home right now. For the last 15 years I would move out of state for the season and live at home for the summer. June 14th I graduated U.S. Army Basic training and the Combat Medic 68W course.
“I plan on actually living a full year in Vegas without moving and then go from there. I am in the U.S. Army reserve as a combat medic and I work for Caesars Entertainment corporate wellness facility as a Fitness Specialist. I am currently working on my Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist certification with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Also, earning my Expert Field Medical Badge and going to the Army’s Airborne School.”
He also has many opportunities on the ice as he hopes to continued towards his path into the NHL.
“I’m a bit of a rink rat. The excitement of UNLV games brings back those feelings of skating in the ECHL or AHL and I love that part of it. But more importantly I love sharing the knowledge of officiating to the local officials who work for the Las Vegas Hockey Officials Association (LVHOA).
“I’m always seeking opportunity to work with new officials, evaluate officials during games, and teach officiating seminars. It is very important to me to give back to the game.
“Last year I was fortunate enough to get the call to skate and officiate the NHL West Coast Rookie Preseason games with the Avalanche, Ducks, Kings, Sharks, Coyotes, and Golden Knights. I will always continue to train and stay game ready if those opportunities ever come my way again.”
As Veterans Day approaches, remember to thank soldiers like him. After getting to know Ryan and getting to talk to his mother, service to community and to country are natural for the Townsend family. Ryan is clearly an asset to the Army medic corp, as well as keeping battles on the ice at a minimum. Vegas is blessed to have Nellis AFB flying the skies, keeping us all safe.
And soldiers like SPC Townsend are prepared to run towards the fight, just like he does on the ice.
Bethany Drysdale is a premier writer on Vegas Hockey. Our readers voted Bethany as the Best Hockey Writer.