“I want to grow the game, and I want to get people involved. Getting down there and working with these brand new players, it takes a lot of time to make sure they’re properly equipped. It takes an army of people."
Coaching and refereeing keeps Purcell busy, and that's the way he likes it
It was going to be an early morning for Ricky Purcell.
Getting to the rink and being on the ice at 5 a.m. is rough — not just for the players, but the coaches, too.
For Purcell, who is a Toledo, Ohio, native, being on the ice is almost like second nature. He figures he’s at the rink either coaching or refereeing 14 to 17 hours per week. Rarely, he gets a day off from doing hockey-related activities.
“I own my own business, so I’m able to do this, otherwise it wouldn’t be happening,” said Purcell, who is a certified real estate appraiser. “If I had a real job that I had to show up to, there’s no way.”
Purcell, 57, has been refereeing for about 40 years and coaching for nearly as long. He’s been on skates since he was 3 or 4. That dedication says a lot about his passion for hockey.
“I just love the game, it’s a great game,” Purcell said. “It’s made me a better person as far as a better athlete in other sports, I think. Hockey was what I was good at, so I focused on that later on.”
Purcell is a USA Hockey Level 4 coach, earning that status in September at a clinic in Columbus, and he enjoys teaching young players.
“I really didn’t think about it, but now [USA Hockey is] pushing for people to be more educated and I think it’s awesome,” Purcell said. “Every year, they get better and better at teaching and communicating ideas.”
Purcell has four grandchildren who all play hockey for Sylvania Youth Hockey in the Toledo suburb of Sylvania. And, of course, Purcell coaches every one of them. He’s the head coach of house teams at the 10U, 12U and 14U levels at the Sylvania Tam-O-Shanter ice rink. His youngest grandkid is 8, and she moved up to play with her brother at 10U, “So I don’t have to coach four teams,” Purcell said. “She’s good enough to do that, it’s house. She’s not a bad little skater.”
If Purcell didn’t have grandkids playing hockey, would he still be as active in the sport?
“I’d definitely be involved with refereeing and I’d probably be coaching a high school team or helping with the higher-level travel teams,” Purcell said.
When the fall rolls around, things get extremely hectic for Purcell.
“It’s insane because I referee a lot at the same rink, and we have two sheets of ice. It gets a little tricky at times, but I juggle it,” Purcell said. “I’m also in charge of scheduling officials and training the new refs for house hockey and the senior league.”
Purcell has been around the rink his entire life. His mom skated for the Ice Capades and his dad, Billy, played with Hockey Hall of Famers John Mariucci and Frank Brimsek as part of the U.S. Coast Guard Cutters in the 1940s, then in the International Hockey League in the 1950s. After his playing career, Billy officiated IHL games in the 1960s and 1970s, often with Ricky in tow. Ricky eventually played high school hockey and went on to skate for the club team at Bowling Green State University. He picked up refereeing gigs in college to earn extra money.
Purcell started coaching in the 1970s when he was a teenager because his dad, who was a volunteer coach, needed help. Refereeing quickly followed.
“Just because my dad said, ‘You’re reffing. I need you,’” Purcell said.
Nowadays, Purcell is refereeing four nights a week, working games from AAA travel league to college clubs and everything in between.
With so much time spent refereeing and coaching, it doesn’t give Purcell many opportunities away from the rink. But he likes being busy, especially when it comes to hockey.
The Huntington Center, which houses the ECHL’s Toledo Walleye, holds free learn-to-skate and learn-to-play clinics on a regular basis. They are always in search of volunteers to help out coaching the sessions. Purcell is one of the top names on the list when they are need of coaches.
“Any time they call and ask me if I’m available, even if I’ve got a game an hour later, I never tell them no,” Purcell said. “I want to grow the game and I want to get people involved. Getting down there and working with these brand-new players, it takes a lot of time to make sure they’re properly equipped. It takes an army of people.
“It’s a lot of fun. I enjoy it, seeing the smile on these kids’ faces.”