COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - “No matter how good or bad the mustache is, people want to talk about it,” veteran National Collegiate Hockey Conference referee Timm Walsh laughed. They come in all shapes and sizes, and some even have names, but most importantly for NCHC officials, lip sweaters create a talking point for a cause.
This November is the sixth year that NCHC officials are participating with the Movember Foundation, which aims to raise awareness and funds for men’s health, including prostate and testicular cancer, as well as suicide prevention.
“There’s a lot of men that are pretty guarded and too proud to talk about it. They think they have to deal with it behind closed doors, but with this effort and all the awareness nationally, you see everyone growing mustaches, and you just talk about it,” Walsh continued.
More than halfway through November, the NCHC officials’ mustaches are nearing their full potential, while the cause they represent aims to be a year-round fixture.
“Even though we do this in November, it’s a yearly thing. One of the biggest takeaways is there might not be a health issue right now, but at some point, you’re going to cross that path," Walsh said. "The more education we have, the more resources that are out there to help address these issues, the better off we’re going to be to handle that, tackle that further down the line."
As with most ideas, Movember started small with just a couple of the veteran officials taking part in donating and hosting an event.
“We knew if we wanted to grow, we needed to get more staff members involved and tap into their creativity. It started with the golf tournament in the St. Louis area with referee Joe Sullivan, and we wanted to take advantage of people’s expertise. Then Timm Walsh came up with the idea of a silent auction in Denver,” NCHC Director of Officiating Don Adam said.
“My wife and I thought what could we do locally to make a difference, and we’d been to several charitable silent auctions and thought ‘how could we make that happen?’ and the University of Denver was super supportive and they gave us a table at Magness (Arena),” Walsh said.
Getting a spot on the concourse at an arena was the first hurdle the officials scaled. Next, they needed auction items. Walsh utilized his personal and work connections to accomplish his goal of attaining rare items for the annual auction.
“When you start auctioning a Coors Light baby onesie, and that’s one of the highest bids on the table, it’s a lot of fun, and people are just crazy about stuff like that. We’ve tried to get stuff that you don’t normally have access to, that is unique and one-of-a-kind,” Walsh said.
Walsh’s success with the silent auction in Denver inspired linesman Justin Hills to spearhead an auction at the University of North Dakota’s Ralph Engelstad Arena.
“To see some of the veterans like Walsh and Sullivan get involved with Movember, those are good people that I look up to, and to see them do it was motivation to get in there and start something at North Dakota,” Hills said.
“North Dakota is a great location for the auction because of their hockey tradition and history. The size of the arena and the fans, they’re just crazy for college hockey, so we knew that would be a great option for our Movember auction too,” Adam said.
Six years since the first Movember, nearly every official participates in some capacity, providing a unique team-building opportunity to work towards a common goal.
“We do have officials spread out across the country, so it’s a great way to bring the guys together," Adam pointed out. "A referee might work at Denver one weekend and Western Michigan the next, and when everybody walks in, and they have some form of mustache, it’s usually kind of funny. It’s the first common denominator and brings guys together too."
Hills and Walsh may play the role of the frontman at their respective auction locations, but both attributed Movember’s success to the communities’ participation and support of the cause.
“The true heroes that make this possible and make it happen are the families, the volunteers, and the community donators. Those are the people that need to get the thanks and the appreciation because without them, it doesn’t work,” Walsh said.
The auctions provide hockey items from NCHC sponsors like CCM and STX, NCHC team-signed sticks, pucks, and jerseys, as well as non-hockey items like a baseball from this year’s World Series signed by the entire umping crew.
So how does one go about procuring unique items for the auction: it’s all about connections and having the nerve to ask.
“CCM and STX, partners of the NCHC, have put together some really high-end items which is unbelievable that they’re willing to do stuff like that. But it takes someone to ask. Everyone is out there shaking the bushes and using their connections to get items to be part of the cause,” Walsh explained.
“It all starts with your inner circle and then expands to their connections and grows from there,” Hills said. He continued to mention the NCHC member schools also play a significant role in providing access to items.
“We start thinking about ways to come up with items in the summer and when it comes to securing the unique items from former college players, Coach Brad Berry at UND allowed me to come and talk about the Movember story to a group of 20-30 professional UND alums who were back to get in shape for their professional season,” Hills said.
“When you have a jersey, puck, or stick there at the booth from a former student-athlete, it connects them to the fan base that supported them during their years in college,” he said.
The auction-hosting teams, Denver and North Dakota, are not the only NCHC teams donating items for the auctions. Every year the visiting opponent also brings an ensemble of swag. This year, Western Michigan items will be at the Denver auction while St. Cloud State will be at North Dakota.
For Walsh, the non-hosting teams' evident support shows that when everyone does what they can with their talents and resources, a lot of great things can happen.
“The equipment guys are the unsung heroes and have access to guys to get items signed. It’s a hassle for them, they’re traveling across the country and now have to pack an extra box, but they’re more than happy to do it, and it proves that it takes everybody; including the visiting team who has enough on their plate, to go above and beyond,” Walsh said.
The auction in Denver is on Friday, November 22, followed by the auction at North Dakota on Saturday, November 23. The officials encourage fans looking to get involved with Movember to visit their Movember website (moteam.co/nchc-officials), which includes resources and information from the overarching Movember Foundation, as well as donation options. Of course, sporting a mustache to spread awareness is applauded.
“Everyone has been touched one way or another with men’s health issues," Walsh said. "There’s this connecting weave, a connective line that touches everyone and once they know Movember’s goals they go, ‘why wouldn’t I get involved in this?”.
“You put a story behind it, and the mustache does help tell the story and connect to each of us. It’s fun from a comradery standpoint and to goof around and grow our mustaches, but at the end of the day, we’re all proud of the effort we put in. When December 1 rolls around we look back at how we all chipped in to have a successful Movember, leading to a positive impact on many lives,” Hills said.
NCHC officials showing off their 2019 lip sweaters at Western Michigan.
NCHC Director of Officiating Don Adam sporting his Movember mustache, also known as 'El Diablo.'
The setup at the NCHC Officials' Movember auction at Denver's Magness Arena last year.
Several items are up for auction at both the Denver and UND Movember auctions hosted by NCHC officials.