DETROIT – Longtime NHL referee Don Van Massenhoven officiated his final game Friday.
The game – between the Red Wings and Buffalo Sabres at Joe Louis Arena – drew to a close a career that includes 1,278 regular-season games; 87 Stanley Cup playoff games; the 2006 Torino Olympics; the 2008 NHL Winter Classic in Buffalo; the 2004 World Cup of Hockey; and the 2002 NHL All-Star Game.
Given the choice where to officiate his final game after more than 20 years in the NHL, Van Massenhoven didn't have to think long before selecting The Joe.
"Detroit is close to my home, which makes it easier for family and friends," the 53-year-old said. "A lot of the teams have great buildings, but it's cool to go to the Joe."
A native of Strathroy, Ontario, Van Massenhoven's first playoff game took place in Detroit in 1999. Joe Louis Arena also was the site of one of his scariest moments as a referee. Van Massenhoven was officiating on Nov. 21, 2005, during a game between the Red Wings and the Nashville Predators when Detroit defenseman Jiri Fischer suffered a seizure on the bench and was given CPR before being rushed to the hospital. Van Massenhoven postponed the remainder of the game after the incident, which was caused by heart problems that eventually forced Fischer to retire.
Van Massenhoven's true resolve was tested two nights later when, during a game between the New Jersey Devils and Florida Panthers, he was rushed to the hospital after taking a slap shot to the face. He woke up the next day after eight hours of surgery and was in intensive care for a week. At the time, doctors were uncertain if he'd be able to continue his officiating career.
"I asked, 'When can I go back to work?' (the doctor) said, 'That's not happening.' I said, 'No, you don't understand, I've been picked to go to the Olympics in Torino,'" Van Massenhoven said. "The rest is history, because I did go."
Before coming to the NHL, Van Massenhoven served as an officer with the Ontario Provincial Police for 10 years. More than two decades after getting the call informing him he would be working his first NHL game, he still sees numerous parallels between his careers in officiating and law enforcement.
"You're in a position of authority and in a uniform and you have to deal with volatile situations. I started referring when I was 15, so refereeing helped me become a better police officer," Van Massenhoven said. "I learned as a referee how to take charge and be in control. Subsequently, being a police officer for 10 years helped me referee at a higher level. It was a great teaching ground."
Van Massenhoven plans to continue serving as president of the Strathroy Rockets of the Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League. But he's mostly looking forward to beginning a new chapter in his life and spending more time with his family.
Hours before his final NHL game, he was taking stock of an impressive career.
"I really haven't had a lot of time to think about it," he said. "With the amount of texts and calls I'm getting from colleagues that gets a little emotional."