Some want to be Prime Minister, others surgeons or police officers, many want to travel in hopes of finding themselves and figuring things out.
Brad Lazarowich wasn’t into politics or toying with scalpels or tasers, and touring aboard would have been time wasted. Upon graduating back in 1980, he knew exactly what path he wanted his career to follow.
“It’s ironic because I put in my high school annual that I wanted to work in the National Hockey League as an on-ice official, so I knew back when I was 18-years-old that’s what I wanted to do.”
Almost three decades later, Lazarowich is 23 years into his dream job and is now the NHL’s third senior linesman having recently eclipsed the plateau of working 1,500 regular season games as a linesman.
To put that number in perspective, Trevor Linden, Vancover’s career leader in games played, retired after 1,140 contests with the Canucks and 1,382 games overall.
Time has flown by for Lazarowich since the league hired him back in 1986, so the veteran official is having a little trouble putting the milestone in perspective.
“When I was taking my daughter to school the other morning she said ‘you know you’ve gone on the ice 1,500 times and off the ice 1,500 times,’ and when you look at it that way it’s a lot,” laughed Lazarowich, whose achievement will be recognized by the Canucks when they face Tampa Bay on Feb. 27.
“It’s a great accomplishment because it shows that I’ve had longevity and that I’ve been doing something right that the NHL has kept me around this long.”
A BC product raised in North Delta, Lazarowich was just like every other kid on the block back in the day, he dreamt of becoming an NHL superstar.
He wasn’t an official from birth with ambitions of sporting stripes and he was far from the kid who tried to get his hands on the Pro Set referee hockey cards, Lazarowich was a thriving hockey player up until the age of 15 when he found his true calling.
“I was playing a game one day and the officials never showed up to ref the game after us,” he recalled.
“It was little kids playing atom hockey and they offered up five bucks to skate around on the ice with these kids. When I was 15 that was a lot of money, so I did it and enjoyed it, then came back the week after and did it again and it just kind of took off from there.”
Steve Erickson, a veteran referee from the World Hockey Association, took Lazarowich under his wing and taught him the ropes as he climbed the officiating ladder.
Lazarowich started with Junior B hockey before progressing to the BC Junior Hockey League, all the while attending various officiating clinics held in Calgary.
Once Lazarowich’s skating and strength were up to par, he was given a crack at the Western Hockey League where he worked from 1983 to 1986.
“I was very lucky there because all three years I went to the finals as a linesman and got all those great experiences by working the tough games. I also got to work the 1986 Memorial Cup in Portland, Oregon.”
That summer a 23-year-old Lazarowich signed a big league contract and he hit the ice as an NHL linesman for the first time on Oct. 9, 1986 when the Winnipeg Jets beat the Buffalo Sabres 3-2.
“I think back then it was almost surreal because you wait your whole life and work so hard to get to that level and then you make it and it just doesn’t seem real at the time. It’s not until years later when you finally realize the magnitude it took to finally get there.”
Over the years Lazarowich has been assigned to some big games, including three Stanley Cup finals, two World Cups tournaments and a few NHL All-Star Games.
The 46-year-old’s officiating record is about as clean as they come as Lazarowich has rarely, if ever, been seriously accused of bad calls. He takes great pride in calling a fair game, every game, even if that leaves him open to wild accusations.
Controversy surrounded Lazarowich back in 1996 during a World Cup game between Russia and Canada at GM Place, a 5-3 decision in Canada’s favour.
“I disallowed a goal that Russia had scored because they had too many men on the ice and I was the only one who caught it.
“Then after that Canada scored the winning goal, so obviously there was talk that the call came because I was a Canadian official, but then the tape showed there was six guys and they were all hugging after the goal, so it really wasn’t too hard to figure out.”
Someone’s always upset when a call is made so criticism is part of the job. But talk is cheap and it doesn’t taint the fun Lazarowich has working his dream gig.
“When you walk onto the ice and you’re the first ones out there to start the game because the teams haven’t arrived yet, that’s the best feeling in the entire world.
"That’s one feeling I’ll never get over because it’s just the greatest.”
It is said the reward for work well done is the opportunity to do more and it’s clear Lazarowich is in the right profession because he’s already excited about celebrating his next milestone.
"I’m pretty young yet, so I look at it like I’ve still got a lot of games to go and I’m definitely trying to get to 2,000 more than anything."