Getting a Gulls ticket can be a tough skate these days.
Unless you’re Anthony Falette.
“I’ve got the best seat on the ice,’’ Falette said.
While that’s true, it’s one that is constantly on the move.
Falette, an Encinitas resident, moonlights as a hockey referee.
When he’s not deciphering this and that at his logistics firm, he ensures things run smoothly at the rink.
“You have to be cool under pressure and be a good skater,’’ Falette said.
He’ll be keeping the peace on Friday when the surging Gulls face the Tucson Roadrunners. While it is $2 Beer Night, we’re here to toast Falette.
Working in the American Hockey League, which is one level below the National Hockey League, still causes Falette to pinch himself.
Especially when he’s calling lines at the Valley View Casino Center, where the Gulls are nearly as popular to the locals as bashing the Chargers.
“There’s no other place in the AHL like this,’’ Falette said. “If I worked a Wednesday night game in Des Moines, there might be 500 people there. In San Diego, there would be 5,000.’’
How Falette, 27, got here is interesting.
He played roller hockey as a youngster and later in some casual hockey leagues in Escondido.
The summer going into his senior year at San Dieguito Academy, his father, Richard, asked that question every teenager loathes to hear: “When are you going to start working?”
The younger Falette shrugged. The elder one pointed to a flyer at the Escondido Ice-plex: referees wanted.
“I had never had a job,’’ he said. “But I knew how to skate.’’
That it would be on thin ice during his initial games was just part of the bargain. While Falette felt right wearing the stripes, he still had to earn his.
“I didn’t have any confidence,’’ Falette said.
Soon Falette put his lack of faith on ice. He blew his whistle and watched for rules infractions at nearly everywhere that had a rink and a puck. Pee-Wee leagues, Midget leagues, Junior leagues, summer leagues, recreational leagues — they all were crammed into Falette’s expanding calendar.
Falette quickly gained the most important attribute a referee owns, save 20-20 vision.
“You have to have that ‘it’ factor,’’ said Falette, who’s also doing the Gulls-Roadrunners’ game March 10. “A lot of times former pro hockey players will try to referee and it’s obvious they know how to skate, know the rules and how the game is played. But sometimes, even with that experience, some guys don’t have the presence you need to have.’’
What being a referee has brought Falette, a graduate of the NHL’s Officiating Development Program, is a weathered passport. In addition to calling minor-league games up and down the West Coast and throughout the U.S., Falette has worked in Russia and Japan.
But there’s nothing like tracking his keen eye on skaters in San Diego, where the Gulls are blossoming.
“They put on a really good product,’’ Falette said. “And everyone was just so excited when they came back, because they were really popular before. Since then hockey has grown so much in Southern California, and in California as a whole, that I’m not surprised their games are so popular.’’
With the Gulls’ parent club, the Anaheim Ducks, in neighboring Orange County, often NHL players skate in San Diego when returning from injuries. That means Falette is laced up next to the best the game has to offer.
“I’m making $170 a game and they have multimillion-dollar contracts,’’ Falette said, with a chuckle. “On some nights my Ford Focus doesn’t really fit in well in the players parking lot.’’
That’s OK — Falette is always revved to call another game.
“I loved playing hockey but I would have never made it to the AHL,’’ Falette said. “And now look where I get to spend the games.’’
Contact Jay Paris at [email protected]. His book “Game of My Life Chargers” is available at book stores and on amazon.com.