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Joannette to referee 1,000th game close to home

by Arpon Basu

MONTREAL -- Referee Marc Joannette has come a long way and will be honored for that journey about three miles from where it began.

Joannette will work the 1,000th game of his NHL career at Bell Centre on Saturday when the Montreal Canadiens host the Detroit Red Wings (7 p.m. ET; NHLN, TVA Sports, FS-D).

Joannette grew up in the Montreal borough of Verdun, a block away from his friend and current NHL linesman Pierre Racicot and near Pittsburgh Penguins owner Mario Lemieux and Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin.

Joannette would go to Racicot's house to play hockey on his backyard rink, and when they were teenagers they would often ride the city bus together to the local arena to officiate minor hockey games in the mid-1980s.

In May 2008, Joannette and Racicot boarded a plane together to fly to Detroit. Joannette was on his way to officiate his first game in the Stanley Cup Final, Game 2 of the series between the Red Wings and Penguins.

"During the national anthem we looked at each other," Joannette said this week. "It was just a look to say, 'We made it.'"

Racicot will be lining up for the national anthem next to Joannette again Saturday, along with referee Dave Jackson, also a Montreal native, and linesman Michel Cormier, Joannette's hand-picked officiating crew for his milestone game.

But most important for Joannette will be the 60 family and friends who will be in attendance to share the moment.

"For me, it will be like any other game," Joannette said. "But the presence of the people I invited, I look forward to thanking them for their support. That's what's most important for me, thanking them for the last 1,000 games."

Another reminder from Joannette's first Cup Final game will be standing behind the Canadiens bench.

Michel Therrien was coaching the Penguins in that series, and though he does not have fond memories of the game (a 3-0 Red Wings win) or the series (a 4-2 Red Wings win), he has plenty of Joannette as each made his way to the NHL from the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.

"First of all, it's a great accomplishment to be able to work 1,000 games in the NHL," Therrien said. "He's from Quebec, so me, [New York Rangers coach] Alain Vigneault, [Boston Bruins coach] Claude Julien, [Calgary Flames coach] Bob Hartley, we coached with those referees when we were in junior. So the battles started a long time ago. There were some good nights, and I'm sure there were some nights that were tougher for both of us.

"I've got a lot of respect for a guy that's been there a long time. He's a quality referee."

Joannette's career began on this path when his father, an organizer in the local minor hockey association, suggested he attend a refereeing camp when he was 14. By the time he was 17, Joannette decided to stop playing hockey and turn his attention full-time to officiating. He made his debut as an 18-year-old in the QMJHL, where he would spend 11 years.

It was during that time that Joannette entered the NHL's five-year apprenticeship program, officiating up to 120 games a year in the American Hockey League, International Hockey League and QMJHL until he made his NHL debut on Oct. 1, 1999 in Buffalo in a game between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Buffalo Sabres, working with referee Kerry Fraser and linesmen Tim Nowak and Derek Amell.

"You want to stand your ground because you know at some point the players are going to want to test the waters," Joannette said. "I stood my ground. I had responsibilities, and I didn't want it to be my last game either."

Joannette worked as a part-time referee in the 1999-00 season, and in the summer he saw three of his friends lose their job as NHL officials. When Joannette received a call with a Toronto area code, he assumed the worst.

"I figured it was over for me," Joannette said. "Instead, they offered me a full-time job."

The 1,000-game milestone for Joannette and referee Brad Meier, who was honored Oct. 13 in Calgary, also marks the first wave of referees who have worked exclusively in the two-referee system reaching veteran status.

Stephen Walkom, NHL vice president and director of officiating, said Joannette is a perfect example of the transition from the one-referee system because of the way he carries himself on the ice.

"He's a consummate pro," Walkom said. "He always has a calm demeanor, he has a great presence in the game and a real understanding of the game.

"He quietly handles a lot of tough situations because he communicates so well with the players and with the coaches."

When Joannette entered the NHL, he got to learn from one-referee veterans, a group that included Fraser, Don Koharski and Bill McCreary.

"Marc was able to work with all those generations," Walkom said. "And in a flash of an eye, that's who he is now. He's the guy people look up to."

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