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Upon watching Datsyuk`s goal against Dallas the other night, I could not help thinking what the referee who was watching his incredible deke was thinking. This also made me remember Mike Cammalleri's referee high-five. Have you
encountered any goal celebrations where the player used you as a prop? How about ones where you just couldn't help but laugh? Also, were you ever just in awe of a goal that was scored on the ice?
All The Best,
During my 30 year NHL Officiating career, there was countless times when my jaw dropped in awe as I watched the sheer magic performed by some of the game's greatest stars. I had the best seat in the house every night while following the play from a safe distance a mere 15 feet away. When the stars shone, I was able to maintain my focus and duties as a referee but my love of the game and true appreciation of their unique talents often caused me to become the biggest fan in the building.
In the early days of my career, Wayne Gretzky and then Mario Lemieux provided highlight reel moves and goals on a nightly basis. There was never a game I worked involving these superstars that they failed to do something really special. The two of them had amazing vision of the ice like no other players I encountered. They were truly the best of the best during their time on the ice. The precision with which their 'no-look' passes and shots found the intended target through sticks, skates and bodies was uncanny. The Great One was always four to five moves ahead of the game and the albatross-like reach and grace with which Super Mario swooped around opposing players and goalkeepers was mesmerizing. I remember my jaw dropping as Mario scored on a breakaway in the 1990 All-Star game which I worked and then again in the Stanley Cup Final against the Minnesota North Stars that same year.
Kent Nilsson was the guy they called “Magic” for his soft hands and the tricks he could perform through his exceptional puckhandling skills. Mike Bossy always knew where the net was and his accurate shot penetrated the smallest opening imaginable, often while carrying a defender on his back or while wheeling around with his back to the goal and falling to the ice.
Alex Kovalev had the hands of a surgeon. While playing s a member of the Montreal Canadiens, he scored a highlight reel goal against the Florida Panthers in my last game in Sunrise. I approached Alex immediately afterward and told him if I ever required open-heart surgery, I wanted the knife placed in his hands. It was a little unnerving when Kovi responded, “Some nights maybe not!”
I was amazed by the leadership demonstrated by New York Rangers captain Mark Messier in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final against the New Jersey Devils. Mess promised a victory that afternoon but with the Rangers down 2-1 at the end of the second period and about to start the third killing a penalty I had assessed to Esa Tikkanen for kneeing Stephane Richer, I made a bold prediction of my own. In the our dressing room, I told linesmen Pat Dapuzzo and Gerard Gauthier they could stick a fork in the Rangers because they were done, out of gas and unable to solve Devils goalie Martin Brodeur! Messier then proceeded to take the game upon his back, making good on his 'called shot' by scoring his first hat trick as a Ranger (a natural one at that) to force Game 7 two nights later. The feat has been described as one the greatest individual efforts in the history of the game.
The modern game is blessed to have so many young players like never before with soft hands and exception skills that bring us out of our seats. While I was never “high-fived” the way Erik Cole celebrated with referee Greg Kimmerly, I want to share a couple of unusual moments I encountered on the ice with two, shall I say, less gifted scorers.
Steve McKenna played eight seasons in the NHL from 1996 to 2004 with four different teams (LA, Minnesota, Pittsburgh and NY Rangers). In 373 NHL games, the 6'8”—255 pound left winger scored a total of just 18 goals, all of which I'm sure were cause for an outburst of celebration. The big guy wasn't there to put the puck in the net and picked up a total 824 penalty minutes during those seasons, most of which were for fighting.
Steve was really a funny guy and kept what little hair he had cut close to the 'wood'. We got along really well together on the ice. One game in the Igloo in Pittsburgh, McKenna was in the middle of a scrum and before he got rolling, I grabbed the giant by the sweater to get his attention. I only stood as tall as McKenna's belly button but I told him if he didn't break it up, I was going to “kick the %^&* out of him myself!”
That immediately got the Penguins tough guy's attention. Steve got a big grin on his face and, looking downward lightly, speed-bagged my chin with his two fists as he rolled his tongue with a “bdllllllllllt” sound. McKenna then picked up his gloves and skated to his players' bench! The altercation was over before it even got started as my chin was used a 'prop'.
The most bizarre goal scoring celebration ritual I ever saw occurred from John Flesch, who, like Steve McKenna, shaved his head to the wood. For his own personal safety, given Flesch's unorthodox method of celebration, he is probably fortunate to have scored just 18 goals in 124 NHL games during parts of four seasons with Minnesota, Pittsburgh and Colorado.
Whenever Flesch dented the twine and the red light flashed, the big guy would charge full speed and launch into the glass with his bald head. I also saw Flesch crank himself in the head with his hockey stick in celebration of scoring a goal while playing in the Minnesota North Star organization with the New Haven Knighthawks of the AHL.
Being just an 18-goal scorer was a gift to the man's health!