Have you ever worked the final game of a Stanley Cup Final? If so, what do the officials do after the game? Is it a special night for them, too?
And what is involved in the off-season?
Mark in Edmonton
Even though it has been a couple of days since the Cup was hoisted by the Los Angeles Kings in the Staples Center the celebration continues through Monday with a scheduled Stanley Cup Parade for the players and their fans. Congratulations to the Kings on their success; not only for winning the Cup but for the way they battled through each of the previous series to advance to the final! Their never quit attitude and strength of character was something special to watch. The New York Rangers also deserve tremendous credit for overcoming adversity on different fronts and for their outstanding playoff run. The final game was as intense and exciting as any fan could hope for regardless of who you were cheering for.
The officials would have observed the post-series handshake from near the referees crease and most likely remained on the ice as Commissioner Bettman presented the Stanley Cup. This is as close as a referee or linesman can get to being part of the Stanley Cup experience; some 45 feet away as it being presented to the winning team captain. After Dustin Brown received the Cup the officials would skate slowly along the boards, unnoticed as they retreated from the ice at the Zamboni entrance and then enter the safety and solitude of their dressing room. There is certainly an element of relief that the series and their season is over as the officials shake hands and congratulate each other on their work together as a team. The playoff run is a long grind for the officials as well and the thought of going home to their family and not having to pack their equipment bag for at least a couple of months are both welcome thoughts.
There might also be some trepidation as to how the crew's performance will be regarded and evaluated by their superiors. There is intense pressure surrounding each game and every closely-scrutinized decision that an official is called upon to make. Regardless of the outcome, they give their best and hope that their effort and judgment is perceived as “good enough”. It is also a moment for self-reflection on their personal performance and in the bigger picture of the journey that began at training camp and ended in this pinnacle of the season and perhaps in their career. There is a sense of accomplishment.
The referees are required to attend to one last piece of business by scribing their signature on the final game sheet once it is brought into their dressing room by the Official Scorer. Although not required, I always had the linesmen sign the game sheet as well and then asked for copies that each of us could keep as a memento of the final game. After the Officiating and Hockey Operations Department personnel completed their debriefing comments the officials would relax with a cold beverage followed by a hot shower. Food would have been catered in and once the officials were showered and dressed they would open the room to family and friends that might have attended the game. My wife, Kathy attended all but two of the dozen Stanley Cup Final series that I worked, in addition to the '98 Winter Olympics in Nagano and the ‘96 World Cup of Hockey in Europe. Each of our seven children took turns attending Cup Final games and they share wonderful memories of being part of something very special from behind the scenes. I always wanted to share any business success that I enjoyed with my family since they made sacrifices as a result of me being away from home so much during the season.
The referees and linesmen returned to their home base the morning after the game in Los Angeles and will attempt to quickly get back into the swing of family life in time for Father's Day. I hope they plan to get away to relax and reconnect. Kathy and I always planned a vacation; just the two of us to get away for a week or 10 days immediately after the season. It was an important time for me to decompress and for us to enjoy each other as husband and wife. Once school ended for the children we took them on a special family vacation as well. It is very important for an official to try to keep his life in balance and reward the best and sometimes only fans he has; namely his family!
Mark, I worked several final games but one of the most memorable was Colorado's seven-game victory over the New Jersey Devils in 2001. The primary reason for that is because it was Raymond Bourque's first and only time hoisting the Stanley Cup. In his 20 full seasons with Boston, the Bruins had come up short against Edmonton in both 1988 and 1990. At the age of 40, the five-time Norris Trophy winner as the league's top defenceman led all Avs blue liners in scoring, with 59 points, was named to the First All-Star team, and was runner–up to Nicklas Lidstrom of the Detroit Red Wings in the Norris Trophy voting. He also scored the winning goal in Game 3 of the final.
As I prepared to work Game 7 of that series, I must tell you the city of Denver was electrified from the moment the sun came up that morning. The only minute of calm I found that day was at 8am, when I went down to the Pepsi Center for a skate before the teams arrived. I skated alone in the empty, dimly lit arena for 30 minutes, while outside the building, television trucks and equipment filled the nearest parking lot. I had never seen so much media coverage for a final, and the big story was Raymond Bourque.
The Avalanche won Game 7 that night, and in a remarkable display of class and respect, team captain Joe Sakic, after posing with the Cup, handed it directly to Ray Bourque so that he could be the first to skate a victory lap. My colleagues and I watched Ray skate the Cup around the ice from the Zamboni entrance and then retreated to our dressing room. It was something special to have been part of. The game had gone well for us and there had been no controversy. We felt good about the job we had done and felt peace and contentment as a result. We celebrated the end of our season together as colleagues and then quickly showered and brought our wives and family members into the room to celebrate with us. We went to a fine Denver steakhouse as a close-knit group and held our own “Stanley Cup party;” not because we won anything but because we had done our job well. Kathy and I flew home the next morning feeling joyous in the knowledge that it was, once again family time even though it would only last a month or so until it was time to begin my conditioning program to get ready for training camp. Then it would all begin again! Such is the life for an NHL referee and his family.
Thank you for another terrific season on C'mon Ref. Please enjoy a safe and happy summer with your family. I hope to see you back here again next season.