Seven or eight years ago, Andrew Bruggeman was filling out an online profile for USA hockey, outlining his goals as a hockey official.
His top goal: participate in the Olympics.
Bruggeman, a 2009 Mankato West grad, found out this weekend that he can check that off the bucket list, as he was put on the list of 14 referees and 12 linesmen who will work games at Beijing, China. He is the only referee from the United States, and he’ll be joined by two American linesmen.
“It’s kind of a relief,” said Bruggeman, who was back at his parents’ home in North Mankato for a few days this week. “I didn’t really know what the NHL was going to do. This is something I’ve worked for, and it’s validation for all the big games I’ve done and the work I’ve put into this.”
The opportunity to work in the Olympics arose when the NHL, and its league officials, withdrew from participating in the Olympics last month because of concerns about the COVID-19 virus
Bruggeman, 30, who started working youth games as a 12-year-old, has worked his way up the officiating ladder. He worked in the junior development program when he was 19, and he’s officiated in the ECHL and American Hockey League for six years.
In April, Bruggeman received the Ryan Birmingham Memorial Award, which is give to an ECHL official for “contributions and dedication to the league officiating staff,” as voted by other on-ice league officials.
This year, he’s working college games for the first time, officiating in the Big Ten.
He also has plenty of international experience. He worked the 2021 World Championships in Latvia; Bruggeman had been chosen to work the World Championships in 2020 in Switzerland, but that event was cancelled by the pandemic. He worked a U18 tournament in Latvia in 2018.
In 2019, he worked the world junior championship at Vancouver, where Minnesota State coach Mike Hastings was coaching the American team.
“What I look for in an official is to be humble and confident, and those kind of guys are hard to find,” said Hastings, who was named an assistant coach for the American Olympic team. “I have a lot of respect for people who sign up for that because if you do your job, you go unnoticed and you’re not being told ‘thank you.’
“I like Andrew’s demeanor on the ice. He’s out there to do his job. When you get this opportunity and keep getting called back, you know he’s doing things the right way.”
In addition to Bruggeman, the pool of referees includes two from Canada, Russia, Finland and Sweden, and one from Latvia, Czech Republic, Bulgaria and Switzerland. The officials were chosen after being observed while working in Olympic qualifiers and other international tournaments.
He doesn’t have a schedule yet, though it’s very uncommon for officials to work games involving their home country. If the United States team struggles, he might find himself working a medal game at the end.
The experience might help him advance toward working NHL games someday, though he said that goal is less important than it once was.
Hastings said it will be nice to see a familiar face in China, but he likely won’t have time to connect with Bruggeman until they both return to Minnesota.
“He has a job to do there, and I have a job to do there,” Hastings said. “I look forward to getting back to Mankato, and I’m sure we’ll both have some stories. It’s fantastic that someone who worked so hard is getting this opportunity.”
Bruggeman said he will find out soon about COVID protocols and quarantines for before and during the Olympics. He’s working some college games this weekend, but he’s voluntarily shutting down and isolating for the following three weeks to make sure he stays healthy, not wanting to do anything that might jeopardize this opportunity.
“It took a while to set in after I got the call,” Bruggeman said. “When you’re young, you dream of playing in the Olympics, and now I have the chance to work in the Olympics. I’m sure there will be nerves, but once the games start, hopefully I can just go out there and do my job.”
Follow Chad Courrier on Twitter @ChadCourrier.