GRAND FORKS - Last season, National Collegiate Hockey Conference referee Dan Dreger was hit by a puck above his lip, causing significant damage that required several hospital visits.
Dreger had four permanent plates installed in his face, two temporary brackets put in his jaw, had his jaw wired shut for two weeks, had eight screws placed in his mouth and 36 stitches.
When it was all said and done, Dreger's hospital bills totaled $89,000. Despite having a good personal insurance plan - he works full-time in the tech industry in San Francisco - he had to cover $10,000 out of his own pocket, because college hockey officials work as independent contractors and are not covered by the leagues they officiate.
Dreger made less than half of that working as an NCHC official last season, so he lost money by taking on his part-time job.
This fall, the NCHC is taking a big step toward making sure something like that won't happen again.
In the wake of Dreger's incident, the NCHC has implemented a secondary insurance policy for its officials. It is the first college hockey league to do so.
While the officials will still carry primary insurance policies of their own, the league's new insurance policy will cover costs that their primary policies do not.
"We did some research, looking into what our options were in the springtime," NCHC commissioner Josh Fenton said. "We went through a couple different brokers and carriers to see what types of policies could be created and the costs that would be associated with them. We ultimately made a decision on what we felt was fair and right for the conference and also was in the best interest of our officials."
Fenton said there is a deductible on the secondary policy, but he declined to say what it is.
"Officials are a big part of our family and our conference and they're an important part to the game," Fenton said. "The more we can do to improve their experience, the better it is overall. This is something we wanted to do. It took a little bit of time to do some research to know how the policy works if enacted upon. Once we got through that, got comfortable with it, had legal review it, we were happy to establish this policy."
Fenton and NCHC head of officials Don Adam acknowledged this is something that has been discussed in the past - even before the NCHC's formation in 2013. But Dreger's incident sparked the action.
The insurance plan was discussed at league meetings in Florida at the end of April, and again with the NCHC Board of Directors in May. They approved purchasing the insurance policy, which will cover both referees and linesmen.
"We've had other injuries and situations that have had us think about it," Fenton said. "But not to the level or extent that Dan went through. It was a combination of his situation and others in the past (that led to action)."
Dreger to officiate again
Dreger, who was previously hit in the face while reffing in Hidalgo, Texas, in 2010, had a long road to recovery this summer.
For months, he didn't have feeling in his upper lip. He couldn't blow out a candle, much less blow a whistle. He wasn't allowed to do any physical activity for nearly two months.
But throughout the summer, he did recover.
Now, Dreger has decided he will return to the NCHC as a referee this fall - with six permanent plates in his face (two from the Hidalgo incident and four from last winter's).
Dreger has worked with the NCHC since its inception in 2013.
"I think it shows a lot about Dan, who he is as a person, and his love for officiating the sport of hockey," Fenton said. "We welcome him back in our conference. We think he's a very good official and does a lot of good things to control a game. We're very fortunate we can have him come back."