WCHA referee has Hollywood past
Battimo starred in prequel to late-80's pop-culture hit
Elliot Olshansky, NCAA.com
When fans in the WCHA are unhappy with referee Derek Shepherd, they might be inclined to taunt him with references to the hit TV series Grey’s Anatomy, and the brain surgeon played by Patrick Dempsey who shares the veteran official’s name.
Fellow referee Max Battimo, however, has Shepherd beat in the TV department, as Denver coach George Gwozdecky illustrated during one memorable game.
“One time, during a TV time out, I was standing around, and he calls me over,” Battimo said of Gwozdecky. “I thought he was going to ask me about a call or non-call, and he says, in front of all his players, ‘Saved by the Bell, huh?’ ”
Gwozdecky didn’t have it quite right, but a 13-year old Battimo did indeed spend a year in school with Zack Morris, Screech Powers, Lisa Turtle, and Mr. Belding. It just wasn’t at Bayside High School in California, but Indiana’s John F. Kennedy Junior High.
As a child actor, Battimo played Mikey Gonzalez, Zack’s best friend on the Disney Channel series Good Morning, Miss Bliss, which starred Hayley Mills as the titular eighth-grade teacher. The show ran for one season on the Disney Channel before NBC bought the rights, moved Zack, Screech, Lisa and Mr. Belding to California, and created "Saved by the Bell."
When “Mikey” didn’t move onto high school with his eighth-grade pals, Battimo decided to focus on real high school.
“I was kind of hurt that I didn’t get picked up,” Battimo said, “and I just decided that I wanted to take a break from acting and be a real kid. When you’re an actor and you’re a kid like that, you’re going to school on the set. You’re working on the set. It’s like being a kid, having a full-time job and going to college, almost. You don’t have any free time, you don’t get to hang out with your friends much. You’re working and going to school, so I decided I wanted to take a break.”
However, being in Los Angeles had its benefits, especially when the Los Angeles Kings made the most famous trade in hockey history, three months before Good Morning, Miss Bliss hit the air.
“Right around that time, Gretzky got traded to L.A.,” Battimo said. “Hockey exploded. Everybody started playing.”
Coming to the game late, Battimo knew that he wasn’t likely to be headed for the NHL, but that didn’t stop him from chasing his hockey dreams up to British Columbia, where he played junior hockey before returning to Los Angeles. While working at a local roller hockey rink, Battimo filled in on short notice as a referee.
“I made more money reffing the game than I did behind the desk,” Battimo said, “and that’s how I got into it.”
As time went on, Battimo made his way from the hardwood to the ice, and officiated games in the now-defunct West Coast Hockey League and the ECHL. Working in the West Coast League, he made a contact that would eventually bring him to college hockey.
“One of the longtime referees in the WCHA, Don Adam, used to be in charge of the West Coast League,” Battimo said. “He said good things about this league, I asked if I could use him as a reference, and he put me in contact with [Supervisor of Officials] Greg Shepherd, and luckily, he invited me out to camp.”
The 2010-11 season marks Battimo’s fourth year in the league, and he’s found that the college hockey atmosphere is great to be a part of.
“It’s a whole different atmosphere,” Battimo said. “Some of these rinks, they pack ‘em in. They’ve got student sections and cheerleaders and bands. It’s like being at a college football game. Pro hockey’s a lot different than that. Also, I worked the ECHL for so long that I just kept going to the same places over and over again: Bakersfield, Long Beach. A lot of these places are new and exciting to go to.”
For someone who spent eight years officiating minor-league games on the West Coast, Battimo’s favorite buildings in the WCHA certainly offer a completely different environment.
“Wisconsin’s a lot of fun,” Battimo said, “because it holds so many people. I enjoy working in Minnesota, because there’s a lot of history there, and it’s kind of in the heart of it all.
Battimo also enjoys his camaraderie with the league’s officials.
“Being an official is almost like being a fraternity,” Battimo said. “A lot of these guys you work with are local, so I’ll get out to Denver once or twice a year, and I’ll work with these guys, and I’ll see them the next year, once or twice. We continue to see each other, but not too much. We have fun in the locker room, we have fun on the ice, we go grab a bite after the game. It’s a tight-knight group, and that’s kind of the cool thing about being a referee, and in this league, you’ve got a lot of good character guys.
And while he used to play a different kind of “character,” Max Battimo certainly enjoys being part of the WCHA’s “show.”
“I feel pretty fortunate to be working in the league,” Battimo said.