High School Hockey

Brookings official Doug Sorensen to be enshrined to SDAHA Hall of Fame

Induction comes after 27 years as referee, mentor in SDAHA


About eight years ago, Doug Sorensen took the ice at Herb Brooks Arena at Lake Placid. The rink is meaningful as it was the same sheet of ice where the 1980 Olympic Gold Medal Game between the United States and the USSR, commonly known as “The Miracle on Ice” was played on. But for Sorensen, it meant even more.

The Miracle on Ice was Sorensen’s first exposure to the game of hockey and after a few hot laps, his contributions to the game had come full circle. While time has passed, Sorenson’s passion for the game remains and its led him to become a member of this year’s South Dakota Amateur Hockey Association class which will be inducted on Friday night in Sioux Falls.

“I don’t consider myself doing this for the recognition,” Sorensen said of the honor. “I’ve done it because my kid played and I’ve got five grandchildren that have played and we need people to work in games so kids can play their games.”

Sorensen’s introduction to the game of hockey was uncommon. He grew up in Viborg and the only sign of the game was a pond the fire department would flood and freeze across the street from his grandmother’s house. But in 1980, he received a more formal introduction when he saw the United States pull off one of the greatest upsets in the history of the Winter Olympics.

“Watching that as a high school kid, I was thinking ‘That is so cool,’” Sorensen recalled. “We ran around and tried to play hockey after that but the basketball coach found out and he got really upset with us.”

Sorensen temporarily hung up his skates until he moved to Brookings as an adult. His stepson, Nick Taylor started to gain his own interest in hockey and Sorensen began helping out as a coach.

“I had never played on an organized hockey team in my life but I started helping,” Sorensen said. “I coached for seven, eight or nine years and coached my own boys because they didn’t have enough people.”

Eventually, Sorensen got the idea to start officiating games. While he started officiating Taylor’s games in Pee Wee hockey, he started to learn the difficulties of calling a game on the ice.

“For almost everybody, you’ve got a preconceived notion that if you can sit and watch a game and see a penalty, there’s nothing to it,” Sorensen explained. “But the thing you learn when you get on the ice and you’ve got 10 players in a scramble all around you and traffic and you’ve got to try and skate and move and get to the right position, it’s harder than it looks.”

But despite the learning curve, Sorensen quickly started to enjoy his new assignments.

“I just loved everything about it,” Sorensen said. “It’s staying active and being involved in the game. Every once in a while, you have a game where something doesn’t go well, but in general, the kids are great.”

Sorensen has been a referee for the past 27 years and a seminar instructor for training referees and evaluator for 25 years. He spent three years as the local supervisor in Brookings and six years as the state supervising referee and chief.

Through it all, Sorensen still officiates youth tournaments and doesn’t have plans of slowing down. Sorensen also credits SDAHA executive director and coordinator Jenni Wirkus for his assignments and the chance to work with younger officials.

“I always enjoyed working games with young partners and helping them learn and back-stopping because you get inexperienced officials that miss a call and then you have that dad-coach that takes things a little too seriously and you run kids off,” Sorensen said. “They get yelled at and a 13-or-14-year-old kid doesn’t usually respond well to an adult screaming at them. If something happens, I can handle the coaches. I’ve had a lot of practice and it’s fun to be able to work with them, let them learn from what they’re doing and then protect them to make sure we can keep them coming back.”

It is the willingness to work with younger referees that not only keep numbers up in a sport that has seen officials decline since the pandemic but also led Sorensen to work with USA Hockey while serving as a camp director for up-and-coming referees ages 18-to-26 to prepare them for higher levels like the USHL and the NAHL.

“I would still argue that there aren’t as many guys that have more fun refereeing than I do,” Sorensen said. “I’m still an active referee and having a ball.”

Sorensen said he was really surprised with his enshrinement into this year’s Hall of Fame class and was just trying to do his part.

While he believes officials have a responsibility to keep the game safe, he also says it’s easy to do a part-time job you get paid for and enjoy.

It’s a path that has taken him several places including a surreal experience in Lake Placid.

“You watched that game as a kid and it’s such a formative experience,” Sorensen said. “That was such a remarkable week and then to get in my skates and burn a couple of laps they won on? That was pretty cool.”