"One fellow official said that while I'm out there, I'll notice the childish grins on the faces of all the players. I think I'll have the same childish grin during the game. I'm sure it will be an awesome experience and I'm looking forward to working it."
-- NHL linesman Andy McElman
"We would walk down to the creek and play hockey for hours," McElman said.
But as he grew older, he traded in his stick for a whistle in order to take a shot at officiating. He was certainly eager to learn the ropes. Why else would he travel into nearby Deerfield, Ill., to one of the coldest rinks in the area, to perfect his craft?
"The rink was known as the Deerfield Bubble and I think it was the only time I ever wore gloves while officiating a hockey game," McElman told NHL.com. "There was another rink in Oak Park (Ill.) that was open to the elements. It had a roof and locker rooms, but no walls and the wind would blow right through it."
McElman, 47, who was hired as an NHL linesman in 1993, isn't sure if he'll break out the gloves one more time Thursday when he works the lines with Dan Schachte in the Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic at Wrigley Field.
The one thing that is certain is McElman will be right in his element when the puck drops.
"It's a special game because I was born and raised in the Chicago area and it'll be very special for the fans and the players," McElman said. "I started playing organized hockey when we moved to Palatine (Ill.), but always found time to go down to Community Park and skate outdoors there. They had a warming house and lots of hot chocolate. I remember many a day that I couldn't feel my toes, but that never really stopped us much."
In addition to linesmen McElman and Schachte, referees Bill McCreary and Tim Peel are also assigned to the outdoor contest between the Red Wings and the Blackhawks.
"I'm looking forward to enjoying the game and the atmosphere surrounding this event with my fellow officials," Peel said. "My wife and friends are attending the game and, living in St. Louis, I've been to Wrigley twice to watch baseball and it is truly a special place."
Peel, who worked his first NHL game in 1999, made it a point to speak with the officials working last year's Winter Classic at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park, N.Y.
"They told me to just prepare mentally and physically as I would for any other game and to enjoy the moment," Peel said. "I think what impressed me most about the way the guys did last year's game was how they were able to maintain a high level of officiating despite the elements."
"They did a great job of maintaining the integrity of the game," he said. "The Winter Classic game is of equal importance in the standings and that's the main focus for me during the game. It's easy to get caught up with the surrounding events but when the puck is dropped, it's time to maintain a sharp focus on the game."
Schachte and McCreary are the senior officials of the group. McCreary has worked over 1,500 regular-season games and 250 playoff games. Schachte has worked over 1,700 regular season games and 200 playoff contests. Skating outdoors to call this one, however, will be a completely new experience.
All four officials were provided special undergarments by the League that should help withstand the elements, which might call for snow by the time the third period begins.
"The League has provided us with some cold weather gear, which was great," McElman said. "The key for me to stay warm will be dry undergarments for each period and pocket warmers in my skates. I'm still not sure if I'm going to wear gloves.''
Keeping dry after each period was the key for the officials during last year's Winter Classic.
"I spoke to a couple of guys from last year's game and the game in Edmonton (the Heritage Classic, 2003)," McElman said. "They suggested putting on dry garb each period and using the pocket warmers in the skates. One fellow official said that while I'm out there, I'll notice the childish grins on the faces of all the players. I think I'll have the same childish grin during the game. I'm sure it will be an awesome experience and I'm looking forward to working it."
Contact Mike Morreale at firstname.lastname@example.org.