PHILADELPHIA -- Paul Devorski's career as an official started in the early 1980s because of a headline in a newspaper and ended Sunday with NHL stars such as Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Claude Giroux shaking his hand and thanking him for his service to the game.
Devorski officiated his 1,594th and final NHL game at Wells Fargo Center. The 56-year-old is retiring after serving as a referee for 26 years.
He worked the game Sunday with his brother, Greg, a linesman.
"You know what, I never thought I'd last this long, but it's so fast out there and it's time to go before you embarrass yourself," Devorski said following the game, a 4-1 win for the Flyers against the Pittsburgh Penguins. "It's so fast out there now. It's time to go."
Paul Devorski worked his 1,594th and final career NHL
game as a referee on Sunday in Philadelphia.
Photo: Getty Images (Click to enlarge)
Devorski, who also worked 197 Stanley Cup Playoff games and the Olympics in 2006 and 2010, is hoping to stay in the League in some capacity. NHL Director of Officiating Stephen Walkom didn't rule out the possibility of Devorski working for the NHL down the road.
"He was probably one of the greatest communicators the game has ever seen relative to officiating," Walkom said.
Devorski chose the Penguins-Flyers game at Wells Fargo Center as his final game because it would be easy for his family to attend since he lives in Harrisburg, Pa., which is approximately a two-hour drive from Philadelphia.
He said it wasn't as emotional as he expected it would be because of the pace of the game.
"I got an email from Koho, Don Koharski, today, and he said, 'When they announce the last minute of the game it is the last minute of your career,' but that was like playoff hockey, so my mind was in the game the whole time and I didn't have to worry about who was sitting in the stands," Devorski said. "If it was a nothing game or whatever I might have gotten a little soft and started crying, but the game kept me in it and that was good."
Devorski was hoping his father, Bill, a junior hockey and college hockey referee for 35 years, would be one of his family members in the standings, he couldn't attend the game for medical reasons.
"He's got Alzheimer's and he had a heart attack last week so he's at home recovering," Devorski said. "He was watching the game [Sunday]. I talked to him this morning. He was in good spirits."
Devorski followed in his dad's footsteps in becoming a referee, but first he had to quit as a player in 1982, at the age of 24 years old. He was playing senior men's hockey in Ontario.
"A reporter said, 'What are you going to do now, referee like your dad?'" Devorski said. "I said, 'I don't know, I might.' So the next day in the paper the reporter wrote, 'Devorski trades stick in for whistle.' I go, 'Really?'
"I picked it up that summer."
By 1986, four years later, he received a call from John McCauley, who was then the NHL's director of officiating, with an invitation to come to the officials' training camp prior to the 1986-87 season.
Devorski was floored at receiving the call.
"The goal was to work a few nights a week, get some beer money, go out with the guys, stay involved in hockey," Devorski said. "Then I got better, I got into junior, and John McCauley called one day and says, 'Hey kid we want you to come to training camp.' I said, 'Yeah right, who is this?' I went there as a trainee in '86 and they hired me in '87."
He worked American Hockey League games until making his NHL debut on Oct. 14, 1989 in Hartford for a game between the Hartford Whalers and New Jersey Devils.
"I was pretty nervous," Devorski said. "I was pretty green."
Devorski, though, was ready. He quickly gained a reputation throughout the NHL as a referee who could take a verbal beating and dish one out as well. It's how he earned the respect of the players and coaches.
"Devo was one of the best because he would call guys out and he knew who was bluffing and who wasn't," said Bill Guerin, who played 18 seasons in the NHL and is now an assistant general manager with the Penguins. "There was one game, and I forget who the two players were, they were yapping at each other and pushing and face-washing. The linesmen were kind of getting in there, and Devo came over and he goes, 'No, no, no, no, back up. OK, you two, go ahead, fight.' The two guys didn't do anything, and Devo goes, 'See, cut the (nonsense).'"
Guerin said Devorski was the type of official that a player could have a relationship with. He compared him to Hall of Fame referee Bill McCreary, Kerry Fraser and Dan Marouelli. They're all retired now.
"They would talk to you and keep you under control on the ice," Guerin said. "They'd say, 'Hey, you gotta take it easy with your stick,' or, 'Hey, I let you slide that time and next time you're gone.' They would give it to you straight. They would work with you. They understood the pulse of the game."
Devorski said his ability to communicate with the players came from his experience as a player.
"I think I was pretty yippy as a player," Devorski said. "I was always yipping at the refs, yipping at the other players, so when I get yipped at here I yip back because I'm used to it. It's pretty good. It's better than giving two minutes for unsportsmanlike all the time.”
Walkom credited Devorski with being able to get his point across without always using the rulebook.
"He had what most people would love to have in life: street smarts," Walkom said. "When you're on the ice with sticks and pucks and players flying around you need to think on your feet, and that's what he was good at. I would say if you went around the League he might have been the best ever at that."
Walkom also said Devorski was an official that other officials wanted to work with because there was an element of fairness that was evident in all the games he officiated.
"Paul was one of those guys that could bring levity to almost every situation that presented itself in the game," Walkom said. "He's a salt of the earth guy that was the same off the ice as on the ice, and I think the players respected that."
The players' respect for Devorski has been obvious this past week.
The Chicago Blackhawks players skated to him and in a line shook his hand following their game against the Los Angeles Kings last Monday. Two nights later, the San Jose Sharks players did the same thing after their game against the Colorado Avalanche.
On Sunday, the Penguins and Flyers players greeted Devorski with a handshake line following the game.
"That was cool," Devorski said. "Even [Mark] Streit, for Philly, I'm yelling at him all the time and he's yelling back, and then he just shook my hand and said, 'Man, thanks for everything, thanks for keeping me in line.' That's pretty good. That was pretty cool, both teams doing it. San Jose did it the other day and then Chicago did it, but [Sunday] it was both teams doing it."
Following the game, Devorski had his family in the officials' room for a postgame celebration, after which his plan was to drive home to Harrisburg. There are no more games for him, and he doesn't plan on lacing up his skates any time soon.
"I tried to play men's hockey during the lockout and some guy wanted to fight, and I said, 'Are you serious? Why do you want to fight me?'" Devorski said. "So no, I don't think I'll play intramural hockey.
"I'll take care of my nine-year-old at home."