Ray Scapinello saw it all during his NHL career.
As a linesman, 'Scampy' shared the ice with the likes of Bobby Orr, Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Guy Lafleur, Phil Esposito and many more on a long list of hockey's all-time greats.
Scapinello worked 2,508 regular-season and 426 playoff games, and 20 Stanley Cup finals, and never once missed work due to sickness or injury during his remarkable 33-year NHL career. His longevity and iron-man streak is all the more amazing when you consider he never wore a helmet and visor, from his first game in 1971 to his last one in 2004.
It's been four years since he retired, but Scapinello's time away from the NHL hasn't dimmed his love affair with hockey, or his memories.
"Man, it was so much fun. It was never work. The famous saying about finding a job you love and you'll never have to work a day in your life, that was me," said Scapinello.
"I don't like to use the word work when describing my career because it was never work. I loved every minute of it."
In a one-on-one interview with CBCSports.ca, Scapinello, 62, reflected on his 33-plus years as an NHL linesman and about being officially inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame on Nov. 10.
CBCSports.ca: What was your reaction when you first learned that you would be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame?
Scapinello: I still haven't got the smile off my face. Oh my god, it's the ultimate award for an official. For a player it would be the Stanley Cup, but for an official[the Hall of Fame] has to be the ultimate award. It's the pinnacle. When I started in the NHL in 1971, I wasn't thinking about the Hall of Fame, I was thinking I wanted to be hired back in 1972. [laughs]
I feel very honoured. There are a lot of referees and linesmen out there who, I'm sure, could've been in the NHL but never got the opportunity. The old expression about being in the right place at the right time, that was me. You still have to perform, but I was given the opportunity and 33 years later I retired and four years after that I'm going into the Hall of Fame. I am just ecstatic about it.
CBCSports.ca: How did you get your start as an NHL linesman?
Scapinello: I was playing Junior C hockey in Guelph, where I'm from, and I was 20 years old. My hockey career as a junior player came to an end. I was approached about joining the Guelph referees association, and I thought that was a great idea because I could stay involved in hockey. The NHL was the furthest thing from my mind.
I was doing children's games on Sunday mornings, and some men's hockey at night, and just enjoying it. I did some Junior B games and I was making $7.50 a game and three years later I was in the NHL.
Scotty Morrison was in charge of the refs back then and he brought 15 or 18 prospects to a rookie camp and from that camp, four or five moved on to the NHL camp. I went to the rookie camp but wasn't selected. The next year, I got invited back to that rookie camp, and I made it to the NHL camp and then I got hired.
Like I said, I was in the right place at the right time. I'm sure when I was doing a Saturday game on Hockey Night in Canada and some guy watching at home who was an official would say, "I'm as good as that guy is. Why didn't I get an opportunity?"
I don't know. I'm just proud as punch to have worked in the NHL for 33 years. I wouldn't change a thing. Not a thing.
CBCSports.ca: What do you remember about your first game?
Scapinello: I don't remember it at all. It was in Buffalo and the Minnesota North Stars were playing the Sabres. If you said to me, "Scamp, I'll give you a million dollars if you told me who the officials were that worked with you," I'd lose the bet because I completely forgot that game. I don't know why. I should have remembered my first game, and the first time I dropped the puck, and who the faceoff was between, and the first offside I called. But I don't.
CBCSports.ca: What was the secret behind your longevity?
Scapinello: Dumb luck. I've been hit with the puck countless times, I had countless stitches and I did suffer injuries. If I had a game Sunday and I was hurt, I usually didn't have to work another game until Thursday, so that gave me time to recover. My dad worked until he was 87 years old and never missed a day at work, so I guess I got that from him. I guess being an agile skater didn't hurt me either.
Scapinello: Oh my God, John D'Amico was so good at what he did. He was the Wayne Gretzky of linesmen. People have asked me a zillion times and I can't come up with an answer as to why John was better than everybody else.
Why are some plumbers better than others? Why are some carpenters better than others? Nobody can seem to put a finger on it. I don't think John had any more passion for the game than anybody else.
I mean, how can you not love being involved in hockey? When I stood at centre ice and when I had hair on my head, it would just stand up during the anthem. I would be there looking over at Mario Lemieux or Guy Lafleur or Frank Mahovlich - you're on the ice with these guys. You don't get caught up watching them, mind you, because I have a job to do.
CBCSports.ca: Did you ever get star struck?
Scapinello: Nah. I admired like hell what these guys do and what they accomplish on the ice. What they can do at that speed with a guy ready to send him into the third row of seats, it still astounds me.
Nowadays, I watch vintage games on TV from the '70s and '80s, and I'm officiating those games. The thing that amazes me is that it looks as though they're skating in sand, they appear to be so slow, and I was on the ice with them and I thought they were going a hundred miles an hour.
CBCSports.ca: Describe a typical day for you in the NHL?
Scapinello: If I was leaving home, I had to be on a flight by nine in the morning. I live in Guelph, so I had to a get an early start because of the traffic. I would fly to New York City, jump in a cab and get downtown. Hopefully, I'd get into the hotel before the 3 p.m. check-in.
You might go into the gym first and do a light workout. We'd have a pre-game around 12 and 1:30 p.m., depending on who you were officiating with. You'd go back to your hotel and lie down. Some guys would read, some would sleep.
We'd meet at around 5:30 in the hotel lobby. Go to the arena and officiate the game. Afterwards, you would go back to the hotel and grab a light bite to eat and go to bed, and the entire thing would start up the next day.
On days off, in warm climate weather, we'd try to get in some golf because we all enjoyed it, but a lot of the times you wouldn't be with the same guys. In baseball, you're with the same crew all season long, but I might have worked three games with Mark Perry in a row and then maybe not see him again for three or four months, which was probably good for Mark because he wouldn't want to spend an entire season with me.[laughs]
CBCSports.ca: Why did you not wear a helmet?
Scapinello: I don't know. I just never wore one. My wife, Maureen, and my son, Ryan, would tell me countless times to wear one. I had all kinds of stitches in my head, but I never wore one in the NHL.
The only time I ever wore a helmet was at the 1998 Olympics. We were having a meeting with the IIHF in Toronto before the Olympics and I was picked to work it. René Fasel[head of the IIHF] was there and mentioned that the officials would be wearing helmets and visors. I raised my hand and told him I didn't wear a helmet in the NHL and would have preferred not to wear one in the Olympics. He said to me, "So you don't want to wear one?", and I said "No, I prefer I not to," and he replied, "Well, you can't work the Olympics." I told him, "I'm a medium." [laughs]
I was doing a game at the Olympics involving the United States and it was well into the third period and I was about to drop the puck in the corner and the whistle went from the linesman across the ice. I looked back and it was Chris Chelios. He crept in a few steps so I turned around and said to him, "Chris, would you back up there, please." So, he backed up and I turned around and got ready to drop the puck again, and the linesman blew his whistle again. So, I looked back and it was Chelios again, so I said to him, "Geez, Chris, would you back up!" He looked up at me and said, "Is that you, Scamps?" [laughs] He didn't even recognize me because I never wore a helmet and a visor in the NHL.
CBCSports.ca: What do you think of the way the game is called today in the NHL?
Scapinello: I love the way the game is now, how the league is calling it. Nothing has changed from the first exhibition game to the Stanley Cup finals. I was seeing calls being made in the finals last season that were unheard of in the '80s. But now the players expect it, the fans expect and the coaches expect it. Everything is falling into place; the guys are coming out of junior hockey with the same mindset, so it's great. I love it.
There's no way in a million years the game could still be officiated with one official any more, especially with the elimination of the red line for an offside pass.
CBCSports.ca: Former New Jersey coach Jim Schoenfeld got into a heated argument with referee Don Koharski after Game 3 of the 1988 Wales Conference final between the Devils and the Boston Bruins.
Schoenfeld was slapped with a one-game suspension by the NHL, but the Devils received an injunction from a New Jersey court allowing Schoenfeld to be on the bench for Game 4. In protest, you and the rest of the officials scheduled to work that game refused to take the ice, and the NHL had to use amateur officials to call the game. Why did you refuse to work that game?
Scapinello: Dave Newell was the head of the NHL's officials at that time, and if David hadn't been scheduled to officiate that game, I think we would have worked it.
We were in our changing room hanging out before the game and got word that Schoenfeld was going to be coaching after the team got a court injunction. Newell said if he's coaching that he wouldn't call the game. John McCauley [the NHL's director of officiating] asked me to do it, and I said no.
The thing that sticks in my mind most, and it really chokes me up because I love John McCauley like a brother, was that as he opened the door I saw the three replacement officials walking down the hall, and he looked back at us, and he said, "Guys, you know, you're contractually obligated."
I expected to be fired and it was certainly within the league's right to do it. I didn't get fired, and it didn't affect my status in the business. That's a real sore spot with me and I get real choked up talking about it. I wish it had never happened but it did.
CBCSports.ca: Did you think you might lose your job?
Scapinello: Oh for sure, and it would have been completely justified. Completely justified. I expected to be fired and I don't know why I wasn't. Nobody ever told me and I never asked for an explanation.
CBCSports.ca: You worked the game in Toronto on Feb. 7, 1976, when Darryl Sittler set an NHL record for most points in one game when he registered 10 points (six goals, four assists) against the Boston Bruins. What was that like to watch unfold?
Scapinello: That was an interesting night. Darryl could do no wrong that night. It seemed like every time he rushed down the ice he scored. He would probably tell you the same thing.
CBCSports.ca: What were some of your other career highlights?
Scapinello: Game 7 of the 1994 Stanley Cup finals between the Rangers and Canucks. Being chosen to do that game, I don't need to tell you the pressure involved. But to be chosen for that game, I fretted about it until the puck dropped and as soon as it did, I went on automatic pilot. Being chosen for the Olympics in 1998 and working the gold-medal game was a real honour.
CBCSports.ca: Who was the best player you ever saw?
Scapinello: Gretzky. My goodness, does he hold every record?[laughs]
I was on the ice with Bobby Orr and towards the end of his career, when he was banged up from injuries and playing only at 75 per cent, but he was still outstanding. Just outstanding. Don Cherry will argue that Bobby Orr was the greatest player of all time, but for me, it was Gretzky.
CBCSports.ca: Tell me about the famous hockey stick story involving your dad?
Scapinello: My dad was an Italian immigrant. Believe it or not, my dad never went into a hockey arena that I was ever in, since the age of five until the day I retired from the NHL. He couldn't care less about hockey; neither did my mom. He thought I was the biggest bum in the world for only working three days a week and having the summer off.[laughs]
After I got established in the NHL for a few years, I started collecting hockey sticks and getting them signed by the players. Being Italian, I lived at home until I was in my early 30s. I was golfing one day and I came home and looked out the kitchen window and rubbed my eyes, because I saw my hockey sticks driven into the ground.
My dad had cut off the blades of the sticks and used them to hold up his tomato plants in his garden and I went nuts but he didn't think he did anything wrong. I had a stick that was signed by Phil Esposito and it said, "Ray best wishes, Phil Esposito," and there it was holding up my dad's tomato plants. Unbelievable.
CBCSports.ca: What advice would you give to young officials trying to work their way into the NHL?
Scapinello: I would say to treat every game they work like it was Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals because you never know who's watching. The players will respect you more when they see you hustling and that you're always aware on the ice. Be non-confrontational, treat everyone with the utmost respect. If you do that, players will respect you back.