"Pierre and I grew up one street from one another. The fact that we will be together in Montreal for the All-Star Game is really special."
-- Referee Marc Joannette
At first glance, it will appear as if there will be only three All-Stars from the Montreal area at the Bell Centre for this weekend's festivities.
Closer inspection, though, reveals there will be five.
Referee Marc Joannette and linesman Pierre Racicot have been selected as officials for the 57th edition of the All-Star Game, joining All-Star players Vincent Lecavalier
, Jean-Sebastien Giguere
and Roberto Luongo
It's the first appearance in the game for the two officials, who have been friends since elementary school. Both grew up in nearby Verdun.
"Pierre and I grew up one street from one another," Joannette told NHL.com. "The fact that we will be together in Montreal for the All-Star Game is really special."
As children, Joannette and Racicot spent most of their time in the back of Joannette's house, where a small rink had been built by Joannette's dad, imitating their favorite stars from the "Sainte Flanelle."
"We lived in the city, so it wasn't a big rink, but we played hockey in the back or in the alley," said Racicot, who at that time had no aspirations to become an official. Back then, he wanted to be the next Guy Lafleur
Joannette, like his neighbor and friend, emulated the "Blond Demon," who was his favorite player "because he skated too quickly for everyone."
Joannette, 40, and Racicot, 41, started to officiate at the age of 14. Racicot was already spending most of his days at the arena. His father, André, was involved with the Verdun Minor Hockey Association with Joannette's father. When Pierre Racicot noticed an advertisement asking for officials, he made a call.
"For me, it seemed much more fun than working at McDonald's or delivering La itPresse or Le Journal de Montreal every morning," Racicot said.
For Joannette, he was more pressed by his father, who was a vice president with the VMHA for many years. He encouraged his son to grab a whistle and get to work.
"He thought that maybe officiating would be an interest as a sideline at 14 to start working," Joannette said.
The two began working with kids' games, officiating at the Atom and Peewee levels.
"In that time we made five, six dollars per game. It was fun," Racicot said.
Gradually, they started officiating games with stronger teams around the regional level of Lac St-Louis.
"I remember there were days that we had to take the bus to go work a game in Dorval or in Beaconfield in temperatures that were really not very warm,” Joannette said.
Although they were officiating, their playing days weren't done just yet.
Joannette was a defenseman, while his friend was a left wing. But by the age of 17, Joannette had put away his hockey stick.
"There was conflict because I was officiating levels that I was playing in," Joannette said. "So they had me make a decision, and as a player I knew I was going nowhere. I thought that perhaps I would have better success in getting to the National Hockey League as an official."
The dreams of playing at Lafleur's level were long gone for Racicot, too, He quit playing at the age of 18, allowing him to devote more time to his studies. The future NHL linesman completed his bachelor's degree in educational psychology at the University of Montreal. He then started to work at a youth center in Valleyfield.
The two friends also started to devote more and more time to officiating and were soon making calls in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. They worked many games together, but Racicot was the first to be noticed by the NHL.
"I was ranked amongst the best in the last two years in the junior league, and it was then that it started to become serious for me and that I really started to think that I might have a chance to make it to the NHL," Racicot said.
He made his start in the League during the 1993-1994 season as a linesman, but he didn't forget his friend from Verdun.
"We spoke regularly, (about) once per month to see what was going on and tell each other some good stories," Racicot said.
Racicot continued to encourage Joannette, considering the development of a referee usually takes a bit longer than that of a linesman.
"The National Hockey League recruited me to the development program in 1997," said Joannette, who spent 11 seasons in the Quebec League. "I bounced between the AHL and the NHL for five years and it was only then that I began to think that I had a chance to do this full time."
Two years after being recruited by the NHL, Joannette officiated his first game in the League, which took place in Buffalo.
Despite having reached the big time, Joannette and Racicot didn't forget the town where they spent their youth. For Racicot, it wasn't his first game in Philadelphia that had the most significance at the start of his career, but rather his first game at the old Montreal Forum.
"I remember seeing the Canadiens step onto the ice with Claude Mouton announcing their names. For me, it was very special," Racicot said. "It represented my youth and my memories. In my head, being on the ice at that moment, it was the best memory from the start of my career. There is no doubt."
"It's very easy to get motivated in Montreal. But you also have to be careful not to get too involved in all that surrounds the game. If you start to listen to too much of what's being said, you will get too caught up in the atmosphere and you will forget that in the end, it's a hockey game that I'm working. It's the same as any other game in any other city."
-- Linesman Pierre Racicot
Joannette's first game in Montreal was also an unforgettable experience -- for more reasons than the obvious one.
"It was very special," Joannette said. "That night, they were honoring the (Maurice) 'Rocket' Richard, who had recently passed away. The night was even more spectacular (for me)."
These days, the two men find that working a game in Montreal is almost the same as in any other town.
"It's very easy to get motivated in Montreal," Racicot said. "But you also have to be careful not to get too involved in all that surrounds the game. If you start to listen to too much of what's being said, you will get too caught up in the atmosphere and you will forget that in the end, it's a hockey game that I'm working. It's the same as any other game in any other city."
But it's also this atmosphere that Racicot, who now lives in Florida with his family, is looking forward to sharing with his 9-year-old son Harrison, who will be coming to watch his dad at the All-Star Game.
"He is very excited to be coming to Montreal," Racicot said. "I often tell him that's it's the best place in the world to watch a hockey game."
As the All-Star weekend rapidly approaches, the two officials will soon find themselves on the ice not far from the Verdun Auditorium where it all began.
The All-Star Game represents an important step in an official’s career. This time, it will also serve as a homecoming for two of the officials.
"I feel very honored to have been selected to work an All-Star Game, but the fact that it is in our home in Montreal and that the Montreal Canadiens
' centennial anniversary is being celebrated at the same time, it's quite the honor," Joannette said. "I fell very well respected."
"It's like a reward for having done such a good job all these years," Racicot said. "It's going to be very nice, there is no doubt. And to be working the game Marc, makes it all the more special."
Contact Magalie Lafrenière at email@example.com