"I tossed Bobby Clarke from a faceoff one night and he told me I was the worst in the game, I said, 'Sure, but you're not taking this faceoff,' and he said, 'Nobody paid to watch you drop pucks.'"
-- Ray Scapinello
The distinguished hockey official also is a Canadian best-selling author after publishing Between the Lines: Not-so-tall tales from Ray "Scampy" Scapinello's Four Decades In The NHL back in 2006, with help from writer Rob Simpson.
The title is a play on Scapinello's 5-foot-6 height, but he stood tall in the Great Hall of the Hockey Hall of Fame Monday as he talked with and told stories to the media on the morning of his induction. Scapinello was joined by fellow 2008 inductees Igor Larionov, Glenn Anderson and Kootenay Ice General Manager Jeff Chynoweth, who accepted the honor on behalf of his late father, longtime Western Hockey League President Ed Chynoweth, who died in April.
Scapinello said the greatest honor in his career was being chosen to officiate Game 7 of the 1994 Stanley Cup between the New York Rangers, for whom Anderson was playing, and the Vancouver Canucks. While officials never get their name on the Stanley Cup, Scapinello said being chosen to work the final series of the Stanley Cup "for officials, that is our Stanley Cup." Scapinello was chosen to work in 20 Stanley Cup Finals.
He said the next biggest honor was being asked by the recently retired Larionov to officiate at the great Russian player's "Farewell From Moscow" All-Star Game between Russian players and those from other countries in 2004.
Then, he admitted that those two honors dropped a notch with his induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame.
After a fun but undistinguished career as a hockey player, Scapinello moved into officiating Canadian youth hockey in his early 20s. He was soon doing junior games and then recruited by the NHL. He worked his first NHL game in Buffalo on Oct. 17, 1971, the Minnesota North Stars versus the Sabres. He retired in 2004 after officiating his 2,500th NHL game, a game in Buffalo between the Sabres and the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Scapinello worked 426 Stanley Cup Playoff games and it was noted he was chosen for postseason assignments in only his second year, a rare honor.
NHL Senior Vice President, Hockey Operations Jim Gregory, chair of the Hockey Hall of Fame selection committee, said Scapinello's most important achievement was never missing an assignment in 33 years.
Scapinello said it came naturally because his father, an immigrant who drove a front-end loader and later worked golf-course maintenance, never missed a day of work until shortly before his death at 87. Scapinello said he almost missed one assignment. He was home in the Toronto area and was booked for a game with referee Don Koharski that night at the Nassau Coliseum, the New York Islanders' home rink. Koharski told him he'd pick him up and drive him to the airport for an early-morning flight. Scapinello said that was too early and he'd take a later flight.
That flight left Toronto and arrived over New York City at the scheduled time, but circled a few times and then returned to Toronto because of high winds. He caught a flight to Philadelphia, made his way to New York and arrived in the first period.
"Richard Trottier filled in for me," Scapinello said. "I rushed getting into my equipment and didn't even have my shin pads on. Richard was about to drop the puck for a faceoff when I tapped on the glass. He skated off. I skated on and it seemed no one was the wiser."
Dropping faceoffs is an important part of being a linesman and Scapinello was efficient. Asked if he did it the same way every time or mixed it up to keep players guessing, he said he mostly did it the same way, but adjusted sometimes to keep "drops" fair.
"Bobby Clarke was all business on the ice," Scapinello said. "We always had some small talk with the players, friendly stuff, like 'How's the family?' Clarke was a tremendous competitor and one night he said, 'Don't ask me about my family. I'm not here to talk. I'm here to work.'"
Clarke knew every trick to taking faceoffs and invented some more, from chopping opponent's sticks to moving into the other player or putting sticks or legs between their legs. Such shenanigans often get centers tossed from a faceoff, usually after a warning.
"I tossed Bobby from a faceoff one night and he told me I was the worst in the game," Scapinello said. "I said, 'Sure, but you're not taking this faceoff,' and he said, 'Nobody paid to watch you drop pucks.'"
"One of the best ever because he was so intelligent," Scapinello said. "And very quiet with his body and his stick. He was a lot like Stan Mikita who would just put his stick in there like some PeeWee and then win them all."
Almost every player in the NHL and those that went before them give great credit to the sacrifices made by their parents early in their careers. Scapinello was asked the role of his parents.
"None, can you believe that?" he said. "My father worked every day. When I got this job, he thought I was a bum because I only worked three or four days a week. After a few years, I started getting autographed sticks from the players and had a nice collection. Like a lot of Italian boys, I was still living with my parents in my 30s. One day, I was sitting in the house and I looked out the window and saw all my sticks had the blades cut off and my dad was using them for tomato stakes. Even after I explained it, he still didn't think he'd done anything wrong. Good wood for stakes. Great tomatoes that year.
"When I was a kid, if a teammate's parent didn't pick me up before a game, I didn't get to go. As a father, I was the opposite. I tried to be at every game my son, Ryan, played. And I was the worst hockey parent you can imagine, yelling at the referees all the time. One day, I got a call from NHL Referee-In-Chief Bryan Lewis telling me and Bill McCreary to calm down because the league our boys played in had called on us."