Skip to main content


It's unanimous: Scapinello was the best

by John McGourty /
To hear Ray Scapinello tell it, his path to this week's induction in the Hockey Hall of Fame was a case of being in the right place at the right time.

To hear his fellow NHL officials, coaches and players tell it, "Scampy' was always in the right place at the right time.

Scapinello, 62, is being honored because he set all  the records for NHL linesmen: 33 seasons, 2,500 consecutive games and 426 Stanley Cup Playoff games. He was chosen for the playoffs in only his second season, 1972, and continued every year until he retired in 2004. He never missed an assignment in his career.

"Ray has all the records," said longtime linesman Kevin Collins. "He's the Wayne Gretzky of officiating. He achieved things that no one will be able to surpass. That shows his longevity and his ability to stay fit. He was always professional and this honor reflects the respect that people in the League had for him."

For the life of him, Scapinello can't remember his first regular-season game, but the second, well, that one has stuck in his memory banks.

"If you gave me $1 million, I couldn't tell you who I worked with in my first game. I don't know," Scapinello said. "But I remember my second game. Boy, do I! Buffalo was visiting Chicago, and Punch Imlach was coaching Buffalo. We're in the third period, Buffalo leading, 2-1, and their defenseman dumped a puck down the ice and skated to his bench, but Chicago got control quickly and started back up ice fast. The defenseman turned to skate back to his position, but his replacement had already hit the ice. I called a too many men on the ice penalty.

"Punch was livid and refused to put a man in the box and he was giving it to the referee, Art Skov, telling him it was the worst call he's ever seen. Art gave him some time, but Punch kept going on and Art gave him another minor. Now, Buffalo is down 2 men and Bobby Hull scores twice and Chicago wins, 3-2. Punch says to Art, about me, 'If he was 1 number higher, he'd be out of the League.'"

Scapinello was thrilled to be chosen by NHL Referee-In-Chief Scotty Morrison to officiate the playoffs so early in his career, but the memories of that first series elude him, just like his first regular-season game, which is lost in the fog of so many other games.

"He never came to us in September and said you're going to work the Stanley Cup Final in June," Scapinello said of Morrison. "Never. You had to earn it in every game, every game in training camp, the preseason, the regular season and the playoff rounds. To get a Stanley Cup round so early in my career was a real feather in my cap.

"Scotty always put us in the best possible situation. He started me out with John D'Amico and Matt Pavelich, and they were the best. They really looked after you. John looked after me for years."

Scapinello loved playing hockey as a boy, even if his 5-foot-7 size and skills limited his opportunities. He played junior as a teen and continued to play senior hockey while working an office job for General Electric. He began refereeing in his native Guelph, Ontario, where he was seen and scouted by NHL officials.

"Ray was working in the junior leagues in the Kitchener-Guelph area and we could see he was good, so we hired him," said Morrison. "I had hired some other linesmen, like Willie Norris, who were on the small side. One day, Clarence Campbell, the president of the League, who rarely joked about anything, called me about a number of matters and then he said, 'By the way, one other thing, I'm looking at these linesmen you hired and I'm wondering when you're going to start hiring full-sized men.'

"I told him that if he's talking about Ray Scapinello, he's a good one and he's going to be around for a long, long time.

"'That makes me feel better,' Campbell said, 'Because I thought you were hiring guys you could talk eyeball-to-eyeball with!'

"I had to take that from the president of the league because of Ray, who wrote in his book that he was 'vertically challenged.' Ray and I had some fun," Morrison said.

"When you say junior, you mean major junior," Scapinello said. "I played Junior C, so that was pretty far down the totem pole, but I had a real passion for the game and that was the best level of hockey that I could play at. When I played in seniors, that was pretty good hockey, but I sat at the end of the bench a lot. The team folded the next year."

Mel McPhee was head of referees in the Guelph area and was well aware of Scapinello's skating skills, character and intensity.

"Mel knew me and he approached me about officiating," Scapinello said. "The NHL was the furthest thing from my mind. I was doing kid's games, 4 or 5 on a Saturday, and men's leagues, just local hockey. Then came the offers to do Junior B and then Junior A and the next thing I knew I was in the NHL. It was simply a case of being in the right place at the right time."

Scapinello "lined" many international tournaments, but his biggest thrill came at the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan. Naturally, he was on the ice when Petr Svoboda scored the winning goal to give the Czech Republic gold.

"The one that sticks in my mind is the 1998 Winter Olympics, the first time the NHL participated," Scapinello said. "I was one of the ones chosen to go to the Olympics and it was a real honor. We had a meeting with the IIHF to go over the different rules and situations and they had a rule that officials had to wear helmets. I never wore one in my career. So, I raised my hand and said, 'Mr. (Rene) Fassel, I don't wear a helmet,' and he said then I wouldn't officiate the Olympics. I told him, 'I wear a medium.'

He became somewhat invisible to players who had known him for years.

"I remember I was dropping a puck down in the corner and just as I started to drop it, I hear a whistle. It's my partner and he indicated someone was encroaching. It was Chris Chelios and he was in 3 or 4 feet. I waved him back out of the circle. I get ready to drop again, take a quick look, and there's Chelios again. I say, "Geez, Chris, come on, back up.' And then I hear him say, 'Is that you, Scampy?' It was the third period. He didn't even know I was in the game.

"The big moment though was getting to do the gold medal game between Russia and the Czech Republic. Dominik Hasek stood on his head and stole that game for the Czechs, an absolutely great performance and an honor for me to be there, doing that game.

"One of my best international experiences was after Igor Larionov retired and held his retirement game the next year in Moscow," Scapinello said. "He put together two All-Stars teams, North America vs. Russia. Well, one night in New York, Igor approached me and asked me if I would officiate in this game. I was so honored and to think now that we'll be going into the Hockey Hall of Fame together. Life has really been great.

"We went over to Moscow for 10 days and we had a private tour of the Kremlin and we saw the Bolshoi Ballet in Moscow. We were treated like royalty the entire time we were there, but the best part was when we landed in Russia and had to go through customs. You know what that can be like, but the first face we saw was Igor. He was there to make sure everything went smoothly for us and he saw us through all the way until we were at the hotel. He is a great spokesman for hockey."

As is, Scapinello has earned the admiration and respect of just about everyone he has ever met.

"I've wondered 1,000 times what makes one player better than another or one official better than another," Scapinello said. "Why was Wayne Gretzky great? He was 165 pounds, soaking wet, and not the fastest skater in the world. Why are some doctors better than others, some plumbers, some carpenters or some journalists? Because they care? I really don't know."

Leave it to others to explain.

"He was an outstanding linesman," Morrison said. "When you think about him working more than 33 years, lining over 2,500 league games and 400 Stanley Cup Playoff games, in his entire career he never missed a game because of sickness, injury or travel. He broke in at a time when he had some very good linesmen, like Matt Pavelich, Neil Armstrong and John D'Amico, all Hockey Hall of Famers.

"In Ray's second year, his ratings and work on the ice were worthy of a Stanley Cup Playoff assignment and he never missed them from then on."

"It was his personality and his passion for being a linesman," Morrison said. "His skating ability was second-to-none. Remember when he picked up the puck on icings and went flying down the ice to hand it to the referee? People asked me if that was showmanship. That's just Ray and it says he's into the game. That's what made him such a good linesman. He had an outstanding career and is very worthy of his induction to the Hockey Hall of Fame."

Yes, Scapinello was famous for picking up pucks on icings and flying the length of the ice to hasten the ensuing faceoff.

"It was something that I did, right from the start of my officiating career," Scapinello said. "I guess it helped separate me from some others. I mean, we're all doing the same thing, making the same decisions. What sets you apart? I was always proud of my accountability. My mantra was hustling and showing people that I was into the game. It was something that I did, as quickly as I could. I wasn't showboating and I certainly didn't get paid extra.

"Marcel Pelletier, the Philadelphia Flyers' scout, once asked me if I could skate like that with a puck and I told him I could skate with it, but I couldn't control it."

But Scapinello surely could control a game.

"Ray was always very professional, and his pre-game preparation was always top-shelf," said Bill McCreary, the NHL referee who will likely follow his brother-in-law Scapinello into the Hockey Hall of Fame. "He expected the same from his teammates every night. He worked very hard and he had a lot of fun doing so. He always treated this job as something that he was lucky to have and he was always very successful at it.
"There's going to be one person looking down from Heaven with a lot of pride at Ray's induction and that's John D'Amico. They were a fantastic pair of linesmen together. They knew exactly what each other would do." -- Ian "Scotty" Morrison on Ray Scapinello

"It was just the way he conducted himself, on and off the ice. He carried himself very professionally. He respected the game and he had a tremendous passion for the game of hockey. He had a great deal of respect for the players that he had an opportunity to work with over the course of his career. He was very good with his teammates all the time. A great guy to travel with and a fun guy to be with on a day off. He would do anything that you wanted to do. All of us respected his accomplishments in the industry."

"Ray loved to have fun and he released his anxieties with a good joke," McCreary said. "I always appreciated the opportunity to work with Ray because he treated me professionally and he certainly deserves the achievement of being acknowledged as a Hockey Hall of Fame linesman.

"Like a lot of us, Ray took a lot of pride in his work. He always worked hurt and no one knew that he was hurt. He has a son that was sick a lot, at times, when he was very young, with asthma. It was life-threatening at times. Maureen, being the strong lady that she is, wouldn't even tell Ray. He'd just go about his business and do his games."

Since retiring in April 2004, Scapinello has consulted to the officiating staff of the Ontario Hockey League and the Central Hockey League. He makes a couple of trips a year to evaluate CHL referees.

"Ray has all the records. He's the Wayne Gretzky of officiating. He achieved things that no one will be able to surpass. That shows his longevity and his ability to stay fit. He was always professional and this honor reflects the respect that people in the League had for him."
-- Kevin Collins

"I worked with the OHL for a couple of years and I'm still working with the CHL referees, as a supervisor. I'm not the referee-in-chief. I help out," Scapinello said. "I go down there a couple times a month and do evaluations and offer some suggestions and do some instructions. Some of those referees have aspirations of making it to the NHL and some of them have. There are others who have a real passion for the game, but they have full-time jobs and they are definitely good enough for that level.

"It's a wonderful job for me and I tell them that I don't care what level you are officiating at, kids, teens, junior, beer leagues, treat every game you do as if it is Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final. And, like in my case, you don't know who is watching you."

Scapinello was asked to sum up his feelings about being inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.

"I'm hoping I don't (cry), but I know I will," Scapinello said. "I was asking Kelly Masse of the Hall of Fame staff if I could just be inducted without a speech and she said I'll do fine. I've got 4 minutes. I remember Ron Francis last year was so articulate and composed and then Mark Messier was so emotional and why wouldn't you be? I can understand that.

"I'll need to recognize the many people that helped me along the way. No one ever had success without the support of a lot of people along the way."

"I remember when Ray first came on and (former NHL linesman) John D'Amico was the hero in those days," longtime NHL coach Pat Quinn said. "Scapinello just came in and followed in John's footsteps. He was a small man who cast a big shadow. I knew John D'Amico, a marvelous man, for many years and Ray is in the same category."

"There's going to be one person looking down from Heaven with a lot of pride at Ray's induction and that's John D'Amico," Morrison said. "They were a fantastic pair of linesmen together. They knew exactly what each other would do."

View More