February 26, 2005
NHL officials take financial hit
By JIM KERNAGHAN -- London Free Press
If he were to lose a filling or need a back strain looked into, Don Van Massenhoven will be well looked after. But if he wanted to buy a cup of coffee from his professional income, no dice. Like the rest of the 80-man National Hockey League officiating staff, he's on his own.
When NHL hockey stopped five months ago, so did their paycheques. Now, with the entire season gone, they're glad they didn't sit around awaiting a settlement.
From carpentry to car sales, teaching a class or sitting in one, the refs and linesmen jumped into other lines of work.
Van Massenhoven is in auto sales and leasing in hometown Strathroy. Former Sarnia resident Kerry Fraser is selling real estate in New Jersey. Scott Driscoll of Seaforth is teaching high school math in Guelph, Steve Miller is taking a driver's instruction course in Mississauga and former Woodstock resident Brad Kovachik is taking business courses at Brock University.
None is officiating games other than for charities and all are playing hockey. Tonight, for example, Van Massenhoven will suit up with former Ontario Provincial Police mates for a game against an NHL alumni team at Strathroy's Gemini rinks.
"There had been some approaches from other leagues but we agreed as a group at the start we would not take jobs away from anyone else," said Van Massenhoven, salesman of the month two months running at Dale Wurfel Pontiac Buick GMC.
That was more than just a wise choice, considering how NHLers have come to be regarded after bumping regulars overseas since they were locked out. The striped shirts have good memories.
When they went on strike in 1993, the vast majority of hockey officials in North America supported them. The few replacements who came in have not been forgotten.
Previous to their last contract signing three years ago, NHL officials got two-thirds of their salaries in the event of a work stoppage. The signal-callers lost that but retained health and dental benefits.
At an average $100,000 a season, they were hardly as financially cushioned as players earning an average salary 18 times that. So, off they went into myriad lines of work and, in the case of Driscoll, into their other profession.
Even senior officials such as Bill McCreary dropped the whistle and picked up a hammer. McCreary is installing kitchen cabinets in his native Guelph.
All were preparing for a long work stoppage but felt last weekend's final flurry of talks might send them back to work.
"That was as optimistic as I had been," said Kovachik, who has refereed a few charity games and plays a couple of games a week in a Fort Erie recreational league.
Van Massenhoven also gets in a couple of games a week as a defenceman with a team called The Old Dutchies and with an OPP team.
This has been the longest winter in memory the officials haven't been on the go. Prior to the final league decision to abandon the season, fielding the endless questions about the lockout has been as difficult for them as for the players, since neither was privy to inside machinations.
They all miss their careers but as Van Massenhoven has found, there are positives in anything.
"I'm enjoying (car sales) and I've learned a lot. It was a slow January but it's been a busy February. And naturally, I'm enjoying the family time this has allowed," said the father of two teenaged daughters.
Western grad Driscoll, father of three, is finding the same thing and has had the chance to coach his nine-year-old son.
"I'm seeing the game from another side," he chuckled.
None of them knows when they might be back in action any more than anyone else, players included.
Which brings up an interesting scenario. What if the NHL goes with replacement players? Miller summed it up. "We're employed by the league to officiate."
That means they're hired to handle games involving NHL teams and whatever rosters they put on the ice.