Dutchman Nico Toemen oversaw the recruiting and training of British officials for eleven years, from the Heineken British League in the late 1980s into the Superleague era.
A highly experienced international official, Toemen began handling junior games in his teens while a defenceman in the Netherlands First Division. From the age of 21 he lined senior games and within a couple of years he had been assigned 20 IIHF tournaments, including a couple of World Championships.
His ability was so outstanding that he was rewarded with the highlight of his career, the 1980 Winter Olympics, when he was a linesman at the big game between the USSR and the USA, the USA’s memorable ‘Miracle on Ice’.
As British ice hockey boomed during the 1980s through its Heineken sponsorship and a huge rink-building programme, it was outstripping its ability to cope in various ways, officiating being a major problem area.
British Ice Hockey Association (BIHA) president Frederick Meredith appointed Toemen in 1987 as the governing body’s referee-in-chief, a salaried post, and Nico set to work recruiting and training people (mostly men in those days) to become referees and linesmen, with the emphasis on youth and neutrality. The payment of match fees and expenses for all officials was agreed.
To achieve the high standards he wanted, he held fully funded seminars around the country at regular intervals during the season, as well as pre-season training camps over a long weekend. Physical fitness was a requirement, with timed runs and physical exercises against the clock.
Within six years he had successfully recruited and trained over 200 on-ice officials at all levels, with 16 sufficiently qualified to be licensed by the IIHF to handle international competitions.
Game supervisors and assessors were also appointed and supplied with detailed report forms to be completed and returned to him. In return he ensured that none of these volunteers – as many as 25 at one point – were left out of pocket by their duties.
Nico himself, meanwhile, was leading by example, working Premier Division games and three consecutive British Championship play-off weekends at Wembley Arena.
Outspoken and controversial, he sometimes clashed with club officials, but he unquestionably transformed the officiating landscape during his years at the helm.
A few months after suffering heart problems in the 1992 off-season, he hung up his skates. The BIHA kept him on as their Director of Officiating and he was honoured by the IIHF who appointed him as one of their six supervisors of world officiating.
Appointed manager of Great Britain’s 1994 and 1995 World Championship and Olympic Qualifying teams, he also acted as Britain’s delegate to the IIHF in Bratislava.
With the growing professionalism of the sport, in 1994 with the aid of a Sports Council grant, the BIHA appointed a chief executive. He set up a second office in an expensive suite outside
Nottingham, where he worked alongside Toemen, who lived nearby. The operation was a financial disaster, however, and Nico returned home with his family in 1998.
Nico Toemen was born on 19 April 1958 in Tilburg, Netherlands. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1993.