NHL linesmen Shane Heyer and Jay Sharrers have gone home for the Olympic break. But unlike most of their fellow officials, they're going home to work. Heyer and Sharrers are two of 13 NHL officials working at the Vancouver Olympic games; both will be officiating in their first Olympics.
"It's fantastic. I think sometimes the phrase a dream come true is overused, but for me this is a real dream come true," said Sharrers, who was born in New Westminster, a suburb of Vancouver. "Just because of the stage of how grand it is as far as how hockey is for this Olympics, the fact that it's in my hometown area and the fact that for me in my career this is the one thing that I haven't accomplished. This is a real personal satisfaction to be part of this team."
Sharrers' family moved to Hope, B.C. when he was 2, and while both he and Heyer, who grew up in Penticton, B.C., lived outside of Vancouver, the two of them called the city home for many years before reaching the NHL.
"We've known each other for a long time, 25 years," Heyer said. "We worked in the Western Hockey League together, so we used to travel all over the place, sometimes together, sometimes to different games, but we both lived in Vancouver at the time."
Heyer was hired by the NHL in 1988, and his first regular-season game was in Vancouver, Canucks against the Winnipeg Jets. Sharrers followed his friend into the NHL in 1990.
As Olympic first-timers, the two linesmen have to make a few adjustments to their every-day officiating, as International Ice Hockey Federation rules differ slightly from those in the NHL. While the every-day fan may not notice the changes, the two linesmen are prepared.
"I have been studying," Sharrers said. "We received a bunch of information from the IIHF, so I've been going over that. There are not a lot of big differences, but there are some subtle differences, and obviously in our business you want to be prepared for everything. To have to think about something on the ice as opposed to reacting to it is not a situation you want to be in."
Heyer studied on his plane ride to Vancouver, so as not to get confused while officiating his last few NHL games before the Olympics. But as a professional, he is well-aware of some of the most significant rule differences.
"One rule I know is different is that they don't have touch icing in the IIHF," Heyer said. "The other significant thing is that when a player gets hit in the head, there's a specific penalty for that."
Working with some new faces also brings another challenge to Olympic officiating.
"I've talked to some of the guys who've been to the Olympics before and they say it's a little bit different in that we'll be working with some international officials as well, so that will provide another challenge in that they are people we don't work with on a regular basis in the NHL," Heyer said. "But again, it's the same sort of basic game and same basic system and I'm sure we'll put the game first and we'll work well together."
Sharrers also sought the advice of fellow NHL officials, like Dennis LaRue and Bill McCreary, who have participated in more than one Olympics.
"It's just like anything," Sharrers was told. "Like the Stanley Cup Playoffs, you want to take it one game at a time, remain in the present and try not to get focused on all the periphery stuff, because obviously there will be a large spectacle and a lot of distractions. But when it comes down to the puck being dropped, you're there to officiate a hockey game and that's kind of what you have to focus on."
LaRue, who like Heyer and Sharrers also came to the NHL through the WHL system, has had several chats with first-timers, having worked the 1988, 2002 and 2006 Olympics.
"I've told them more what to expect about the thrill of the Games themselves than specifically the hockey games," LaRue said. "These guys are all high-quality officials, so they don't need me to tell them anything about the games. They are going to be great games and we're going to do a great job, but the Olympics themselves, it's just a fantastic event to have the opportunity to be part of."
Heyer is ready for the challenge and the excitement of his first Olympics.
"I think the games will be very intense right from the drop of the puck of the first game," he said. "It's such a short tournament that teams can't afford to lose games, so the intensity level, the combination of players playing for their own country and the short tournament will create very exciting and very intense hockey right from the opening faceoff of the first game. So it should be a great challenge for us. Yeah, I'm very excited. I tell my kids this is an opportunity of a lifetime for us."
But more than anything, it's a chance for the two men to return to the city where they started their careers and to the province they call home.
"It's great for anybody, but when it's in the area where you're from, you can't beat it," Heyer said. "It will be a lot of fun to reminisce about our time in Vancouver and back to our days in junior hockey. Hopefully we'll be fortunate to get a game together in the Olympics, but if not we'll cheer for each other to do well, just like we cheer for all of us officials to do well in all their games."
"It really makes it a very special experience to work this tournament with him," Sharrers said. "We are best of friends and have been working together for so long."