Veteran NHL Referee Rob Shick will officiate his last game on Saturday when the Los Angeles Kings host the Minnesota Wild at STAPLES Center.
A 25-year veteran, Shick has called more than 1,300 NHL games including 130 playoff games, the 1994 and 1997 NHL All-Star Games and the 2001 Stanley Cup Finals. In addition, Shick was on the ice for the first outdoor game played in the NHL, between the Los Angeles Kings and the New York Rangers, a memorable game for all involved.
"There was Cleopatra, she sang the National Anthem and Caesar drove the Zamboni," said Shick. "I remember Wayne Gretzky saying that he had seen a lot of things in his life but he had never witnessed anything quite like what he saw that night. That was the game where the moths flew on the ice, guys were losing their edges and it was 90 degrees in the afternoon."
There is a sense of irony in Shick calling a game between the Kings and Rangers in Las Vegas, considering that those teams played every other home game that season in one of Shick's two favorite arenas.
"I have some really good memories of the old Forum [in Los Angeles]; that was a great place to work even though hockey wasn't really popular back then. Most of my memories are from all of the old buildings, the Forum, the Chicago Stadium, the St. Louis Barn, the Montreal Forum and the [Madison Square] Garden. My favorite of those buildings though is Madison Square Garden because of the history and the building, but the old Forum wasn't far behind. You never got a bad game there because the fans were really close."
Shick debuted at the NHL level on April 6, 1986 when he filled in during a game between the New York Islanders and the Philadelphia Flyers. But his career as a referee started long before that.
"I was born and raised in a small town in Canada, British Columbia called Port Alberni and when I was a young fellow, 13 or 14 years old, I had asthma. I could never play a lot of hockey and travel with the hockey teams, I always had to stay close to home. So I decided to get a little extra ice time when my team was on the road and start refereeing."
Beginning so young, Shick has never had a second career, but that doesn't mean he will have a lot of free time after Saturday's game. In fact, he is retiring to be able to take on the second job he feels should be his first priority.
"I have been doing this for 25 years. I signed with the association when I was 25-years-old and I will actually be 52 in December. I decided to have children later on in life, and the last couple of years I just decided that it was time to really become a father. I really want to spend some quality time with them and in our job, and the problem is that we are contracted for 75 games a year, so we are never home.
My kids were growing up, and I didn't want to miss any more of that. My wife has a practice in Newport Beach by Hoag Hospital and she specializes in women's breast cancer. So I figured this is a good opportunity and I figured that my calling is to drive the minivan around with the kids. I deal in wins and losses and she deals in life and death, so it was not a hard decision."
The other reason that Shick can sleep easy with his decision to retire is that he leaves behind him a great legacy.
"This is something that you might not know if you are not focused on the officials. Before every game, all four officials get together at center ice and we stand in a huddle and we hit our arms and we hit our chest and we hit each other and we go, 'Okay, let's have a good game.' We never used to do that, but what happened was that a couple of years ago, one of our linesman was killed tragically in a motorcycle accident and during that same year another linesman by the name of John D'Amico passed away. So the president of our association came to me and he asked me what I thought we should do as a tribute to these two individuals.
"I came up with this and we do it now, we have done it for three or four years now and we continue to do it. To me that is the best memory that I will have when I am sitting at home, watching the games on TV knowing that the guys continue that tradition and honor them. That means a lot to me."
While he leaves behind a tradition to honor his departed colleague, Shick takes with him immense respect because he understands that hockey is an emotional game and can let outbursts roll off of his back.
"You can never take it personally when you are out there," he said. "I have met many players whom on the ice, for whatever reason, you don't get along with, and then you come off the ice and you wouldn't think it was the same person. I can tell you that I am not the same either, people portray me as being a certain type of person on the ice and they probably don't know Rob Shick at all when he comes off the ice. Or if they did meet me, they would probably be surprised. I would guess that it is the same with the players."
After 25 years in the NHL, Shick has seen the game change numerous times, from the introduction of overtime to the post-lockout rule changes to encourage speed and performance.
"I think that the biggest change in hockey that I have seen is the standard of officiating. We now allow the talented players to play the game. I think that we have done that by allowing players to check with their sticks, but allow them to check the other players' stick and not their body. It has created speed and finesse and I don't think that the game has ever been better.
"It makes my job tremendously harder because in the olden days when someone hooked another player, they used to wrap their stick around them and pull them down. Or when they held some player, he would throw his arms around him and just pull the guy down. Now a little hook is just with the stick really quickly, a little trip, moving so quickly that you have to stay focused and get good sight lines."
The hardest thing about officiating, despite what some hockey fans might think, is not deciding what the right call should be, that comes naturally.
"I think that when you are on the ice and you are focused as a referee, you never say to yourself this is going to be a hard call or a tough call. I don't think about things that I am going to call, I just react to them. You just react and go by instinct and hopefully most of the time you are going to react accordingly to the things you see. I have always said that we call things in split second decisions and people criticize us in slow motion."
Despite the criticism he and all other officials face, Shick is confident that he has a careers worth of games that he called well. He also has memories of playoff hockey and the time demands inflicted on a referee at the NHL level.
"The most memorable game that I have had, Pittsburgh was playing Philadelphia in the playoffs. We started the game at 7:35 p.m. (ET) and we walked off the ice at 2:35 a.m. in the morning. There were five periods of overtime until Keith Primeau scored for Philadelphia. That is a long time for anybody to be on the ice, and I remember the feeling of getting off the ice at 2:35 a.m. and going 'Oh my goodness.' But it was neat too because you knew that you were a part of history."
With such a neat career, Shick has only two regrets.
"My two regrets are first that I didn't go to college. In Canada, at the time I was of age back in the 1970s, people only went to college for two reasons: one, you are very, very smart and two, you are rich. I didn't really fall into either of those categories. Being from a small town of 18,000 people, you either worked in a mill or you were a logger. I was fortunate enough to be in the right place at the right time for hockey and pursue that, but I would have been kind of hard pressed to have anything to fall back on. My other regret is that I didn't meet my second wife earlier so that we could have had children together."
After Saturday afternoon, they will have a lot more time to spend with each other, while another referee gets his chance to become an NHL official.
Those will be mighty big shoes to fill.