WASHINGTON -- Conflicting loyalties are facing retired NHL referee Paul Devorski when he watches two friends and former junior teammates battle for the Stanley Cup.
Devorski, who was a tough-as-nails defenseman and a team captain before he turned to officiating, was a teammate of Washington Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan and Vegas Golden Knights general manager George McPhee when they won a title together in 1978, helping Guelph capture the Centennial Cup, the Canadian Junior A championship.
Today, MacLellan and the Capitals are playing McPhee and the Golden Knights in the Stanley Cup Final, which continues with Game 4 at Capital One Arena on Monday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS). Washington leads the best-of-7 series 2-1.
The three men, each 59, were born and raised in Guelph, Ontario, 50 miles west of Toronto, and have been friends for more than 40 years.
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"I grew up a lot closer to George," said Devorski, now an NHL officials supervisor after 26 seasons in the League as a referee. "I was supposed to be his best man and I missed (the wedding) because I had a game in San Jose the night before and my flight was late coming in the next day. So Pat Quinn stood in for me.
"And who do you think gave me hell when I got to the wedding reception? Pat, of course. George and I have always stayed close. He's the godfather to my son, Luk."
Devorski said he has also maintained a good friendship with MacLellan through the years.
"He's a little quieter than George, quite laid back," Devorski said. "But a good man."
When they were teammates 40 years ago and won their Canadian championship, MacLellan was a tough but talented, big-bodied defenseman (he converted to forward after junior) and McPhee was the small, bundle-of-energy forward who played with no fear.
"Brian was more the playmaker than I was and he was good, a really good defenseman," Devorski said. "I was more of a disturber, not so worried about taking penalties and getting in fights. Of course, Brian would fight you if he got mad. We used to call him 'Grape Ape' (a cartoon in the 1970s).
"And George, well, you know, he didn't back down from anybody and the thing with George was that he could score goals and he was a good playmaker, too. But he didn't care if a guy was a foot taller than him, he'd get in his face or if he had to, fight him too."
Former NHL referee Paul Devorski (first row, wearing C) is keeping eye on former junior teammates, Vegas Golden Knights GM George McPhee (first row, wearing A) and Washington Capitals GM Brian MacLellan (second row, seventh from right) in the Stanley Cup Final.
After dabbling in some senior hockey, Devorski turned to officiating when he was 24 and eventually worked 1,594 regular-season NHL games, retiring as a referee after the 2014-15 season.
"It was funny, I remember having to referee games with George and Brian playing," Devorski said. "Once, George and I had coffee early (on a game day) and he said, 'Don't be upset if I go nuts tonight.' And I said, 'Don't be upset if I have to throw you out.' And sure enough, I threw him out. He went nuts in the game, but he had given me a heads up, which was fair. But he wasn't mad at me.
"I'm pretty sure I never had to throw Mac out of a game."
Devorski's long-ago playing career in junior also gives him other connections to the Stanley Cup Final.
In Guelph's national championship season of 1977-78, it swept the best-of-7 final against Prince Albert, a team that included Vegas assistant general manager Kelly McCrimmon.
In Devorski's first year for Guelph's Junior A team in 1975-76, one of its goalies was Vegas Golden Knights goalie coach Dave Prior.
Devorski's playing days also saw him rub shoulders with other future NHL players.
One of Guelph's goalies in that championship season was Brian Hayward, and in the Ontario playoffs that season, Guelph eliminated North York, a team that featured defenseman Paul Coffey and forward Bernie Nicholls. Devorski also played all-star minor hockey in Guelph with Prior and defenseman Scott Campbell and forward Joe Contini.
The retired referee said his first connection with McPhee is the one that still makes him laugh the most.
As a kid, walking one winter day to play on the outdoor rink at Green Meadows Park near his Guelph home, he encountered his future friend.
"This kid comes walking by and walks right up and punches me, then takes off, running," Devorski said. "So that summer, I went to baseball tryouts and who was there but that kid that punched me. That was George and he laughed and laughed and we've been best of friends since then."
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