March 24, 2009
Koharski era closesRaise a glass -- or a doughnut -- to retiring ref
By LANCE HORNBY, SUN MEDIA
He's the last on-ice link to the WHA, worked nearly 2,000 NHL games, was stung by pucks in every part of his anatomy, watched Mario Lemieux's Canada Cup winner up close, got a shout-out in Wayne's World and turned down Jim Schoenfeld's advice to consume another beignet on national TV.
Referee Don Koharski will have a relatively quiet exit in a couple of weeks, but this tough old zebra won't leave the game entirely. League director of officiating Stephen Walkom says a supervisory or instructional position will be discussed with the 53-year-old during the summer.
"We have two respected senior guys coming off the ice," Walkom said of Koharski and the recently retired Rob Schick. "There's another role in mind, but it must be a good fit for them and hopefully it works out for us. Rob has done some scouting and mentoring for us already."
Koharski won a $50 bursary to a refereeing school in 1969, and was splitting time between officiating and a milkman's run in Dartmouth, N.S., when recruited by the fledgling WHA in 1975. Not yet 20, he lasted a year in the loop as a linesman, before the NHL gave him a proper grounding in the minors.
With his first game on Oct. 14, 1977 (the Cleveland Barons, Colorado Rockies and Atlanta Flames were still in the 18-team NHL), Koharski embarked on an eventful career. He's recognized not only for his longevity, but working so many big games, such as the multiple Stanley Cup finals and at the Russians' request, Game 3 of the 1987 Canada Cup final.
Mike Murphy has dealt with Koharski as a player, a coach and now an NHL vice-president.
"Koho has great knowledge of the rules and a great feel for the game, which are two great qualities," Murphy said. "He and Rob leave two big holes for us to fill."
Koharski spent 10 years with a low profile and the past 20 trying to play down the wild events of May 1988.
New Jersey Devils coach Schoenfeld hung around the tunnel at the Meadowlands to blast him after a playoff loss to Boston and when Koharski tried to squeeze by during their verbal exchange at close quarters, Koharski fell. Believing Schoenfeld had pushed him, he got up, telling the coach he would be suspended, to which Shoenfeld used the words "have another doughnut" and "you fat pig", but not in the same sentence according to ear witnesses.
When Schoenfeld's league suspension was trumped by the Jersey courts, the NHL crew refused to work the next game and three rubber-legged off-ice officials, two in sunburst sweaters, were pressed into service.
Yellow Sunday, as it came to be known, was included in Sports Illustrated's top 10 most embarrasing moments in NHL history.
Koharski noted Schoenfeld's many public apologies through the years as well as the coach's letters of regret to his family. They could all laugh about it years later when the donut-loving 'Officer Koharski' was a minor character in Mike Myers' first Wayne's World movie.
"He (Schoenfeld) has said that because of what happened, he grew to better control his feelings and emotions and became a better person," Koharski once told a writer. "A number of things that have made me and the game better happened because of (Yellow Sunday)."
Walkom said Koharski will get to pick the site and his crew of his last regular season assignment (his usual playoff role likely will be assigned to a younger official to get needed experience).
Walkom says the entire NHL Officials Association has a big party planned for Koharski in September.
"Don had a Hall of Fame career and he and Rob were great ambassadors of the game," Walkom said.
Koharski's famous No. 12 might re-appear at some later date.
Eldest son Jamie has been working in the OHL and hopes to move up the ladder.