NHL referee Dennis LaRue is the "chancellor" of NHL officials these days.
Why? Larue is setting a record of 22 years of Olympic officiating with Vancouver being his fourth Games. Thus the nickname bestowed by linesman Jay Sharrers.
"That's Mr. Sharrers trying to be funny," LaRue laughed. "Jay tried to call me the dean and I said 'no that's already been taken, Billy's (McCreary) been anointed the dean of NHL officials'. So Jay started in with the chancellor."
An International Ice Hockey Federation release in early December had named veteran referee Bill McCreary as the dean of NHL referees for his third Olympics, but had erroneously stated that LaRue was also going to his third, leaving out his first games in Calgary in 1988. Technically speaking, the release was in fact correct, as both McCreary and LaRue have both participated in the same number of Olympics games while employed by the League.
NHL officials were not used in the Olympics until the Nagano Games of 1998. In 1988, LaRue had not yet joined the NHL ranks and was a referee with the West Coast Hockey League. The Spokane, Wash. native had thus been named by USA Hockey to represent the United States as an official for the Calgary Games.
"My first Olympics in Calgary was an awesome experience," LaRue said. "At the time I had no idea I was going to make it to the NHL and have a career as an official. The Olympics were the highlight of my officiating experience to that point and the enormity of the Games and the excitement of the Canadian fans was awesome."
"My first Olympics in Calgary was an awesome experience. At the time I had no idea I was going to make it to the NHL and have a career as an official. The Olympics were the highlight of my officiating experience to that point and the enormity of the Games and the excitement of the Canadian fans was awesome." -- Dennis LaRue
Perhaps it was due to his exposure in Calgary, but a year later, LaRue did make officiating his career of choice and worked his first game in the NHL on March 26, 1991 (Boston at Quebec). His promotion to the NHL also ruled out any international involvement and it was only 12 years later, in 2002, that LaRue once again had the opportunity to return to the Olympics in Salt Lake City and then again in 1996 in Torino.
The 2010 Games offer the veteran official a new challenge. While the NHL began the implementation of the four-man officiating system in the 1998-99 season, Vancouver's Games are the first Olympics to use two referees instead of one.
"Day to day there will be a tremendous amount of scrutiny and attention paid to the hockey games. The fact that this is the biggest thing going on for two weeks, there will be pressure on everybody. I think it's great," LaRue said. "Particularly for the level that the game is played today and the responsibilities that we are tasked with, it would be very difficult for one person to do it anymore at this level."
LaRue will likely be paired with European referees to work the games, who haven't worked with the four-man system as long as NHL officials have. But the "chancellor" isn't worried.
"It will be an interesting opportunity to work with those guys. Good for them. Good for us," LaRue said. "These guys work pretty high levels over there. They work World Championships that we don't go to. A lot of the countries have players from the NHL whose teams don't make the playoffs, so the level of hockey at the Worlds is very high and these guys have all worked those games. They are very accomplished in what they are doing."
LaRue describes his fellow European officials as an extension of the NHL officiating family and through the years has made a number of friends. This year, there will be a couple of familiar faces joining him in Vancouver, as two of the European referees and two of the linesmen from the Nagano Games also were named.
"Officiating is a fraternity, no matter where you go, even locally in Canada, or in the United States or internationally," he said.
LaRue also expects these Olympics to be a little different, as with the Games being located in Vancouver, hockey will be a focal point.
"We're really under a microscope for a couple of weeks, but I guess that's what we do every day anyway and I don't expect anything to be much different," LaRue said. "You just have so many good players in every single team, every player is a superstar really. From a competition standpoint, they are terrific games and there's a tightening pressure on the players and everyone involved because of the finality of a loss."
But the "chancellor" really doesn't mind the pressure and while some of his fellow NHL officials will be resting for the two-week break, he is just happy for the opportunity to be once again part of the Games.
"I worked my first when I was 28 and to be able to still do it at 50, which is what I am now, is nice. Nice that I've had my health that long of time to still do this," LaRue said. "As far as the record goes, it's nice, but at the same I haven't really thought of it that much. I'm just grateful for the opportunity and very fortunate to have as many opportunities that I've had."
Contact Magalie Lafrenière at firstname.lastname@example.org