Scapinello’s career likely to be unmatched

Hockey Hall of Fame inductee Ray Scapinello, right, puts on the member's ring that was presented by...

Hockey Hall of Fame inductee Ray Scapinello, right, puts on the member's ring that was presented by Jim Gregory Monday Nov. 10, 2008 in Toronto. (Toronto Sun/Craig Robertson)

Dave Pollard, Slam! Sports

, Last Updated: 4:41 PM ET

During more than three decades as a National Hockey League official, it never occurred to Ray Scapinello that he might need to call in sick.

Cuts requiring stitches after pucks or punches bounced off his head were shaken off. The pain from pulled muscles dispatched as the cost of doing business. Never once, in a 33-year career that saw him officiate 2,500 consecutive games, did Scapinello consider begging off work.

“Not a chance,” he said, cutting off the question before it was asked. “I’ve been injured, pulled groins. My dad was 87 years old and never missed a day of work. It’s in the genes.

“A streak of consecutive games was never in my mind. I just showed up to my assignment to do my job. I had the best seat in the house and they were paying me to do it.”

Scapinello has another assignment he wouldn’t miss for the world tonight in Toronto, when he joins Glenn Anderson, Igor Larionov and the family of the late Ed Chynoweth for the 2008 at the Hockey Hall of Fame induction ceremonies. The four newest members of the Hall of Fame were presented with their member rings during a press conference earlier in the day and will be officially enshrined during a gala tonight.

The 15th member inducted into the Hall’s Referee/Linesmen category, Scapinello joins a select bunch that includes his old colleague John D’Amico, who died in 2005, and record-setting referee Andy van Hellemond.

“It’s the players’ game, all the officials know that,” Scapinello said. “To be inducted in here is the ultimate honour. I’m just so humbled by this. Everything worked out for me. It’s the highlight of my career, no question.

“In 1971, I just wanted to be (hired) back for 1972, that’s all I wanted. This is the proverbial icing on the cake, all those clichés.”

Scapinello’s list of accomplishments in the NHL may never be matched by another linesman.

He worked 2,500 regular-season games, the last of which came April 2, 2004 in Buffalo, and 426 playoff games; officiated 20 years in the Stanley Cup final; worked three all-star games; was among the first group of professional officials to call games at the Olympics in Nagano; and was named “best in the business” 20 times.

Impressive stuff, especially for a man who, at a generous 5-foot-7, looked up to virtually every player in the NHL. Scapinello made up for any physical shortcoming by working hard at perfecting his craft.

Still, times have changed and he might not get the same opportunity if he was starting his career today.

“I don’t think so but no one would say it, probably,” he said, noting that he had to overcome some of the same things short players like Theoren Fleury did to stay in the NHL. “Theo had to prove it every night and I had to prove it every night.”

Scapinello, who never wore a helmet during his NHL career (he did for the Olympics, though), is known for the short, choppy skating style he’d use racing to retrieve pucks on icing calls, and his affable nature on the ice.

“I prided myself in getting along with the players,” he said. “Hockey players are the funniest guys in the world. I don’t know where they come up with the one-liners.”

Although not all of them shared his friendly sentiments – Bobby Clarke was all business on the ice, Scapinello says – he didn’t have any issues with the league heavyweights, despite being on the wrong side of a wayward fist on several occasions.

“(Bob) Probert was the best fighter I’ve seen in my career,” he said. “Stepping in between the heavyweights was very easy. There was a code among them. The heavyweights were never a problem.”

Scapinello also had high praise for the two players who went into the Hall of Fame alongside him. The previous highlight of his career, he says, was being asked to officiate at Larionov’s 2004 farewell game in Moscow.

“Igor was a real gentleman,” Scapinello said. “Igor was class personified. The guy is incredible. He’s a better person off the ice than he was a player on the ice, a consummate gentleman.

“Glenn was a prototype power forward. He just drove to the net constantly and scored big goals. His office was the front of the net. How many clutch goals does he have? You can’t bottle that.”

During his stellar career, there was one game that Scapinello nearly missed. And he can thank referee Don Koharski and Mother Nature for nearly ending his Cal Ripken-like streak.

After taking a later flight to New York that he wanted, on the advice of Koharski he says, Scapinello was mortified when the plane was sent back to Toronto because it couldn’t land due to high winds. Eventually they flew to Philadelphia and drove to Long Island for the game, which had already started with Richard Trottier taking Scapinello’s spot.

Scapinello quickly dressed and, during a stoppage in play in the first period, tapped on the glass to get Trottier’s attention. They switched spots in a heartbeat and the streak lived on.

“I don’t even think I put my pads on,” Scapinello said with a laugh. “That was the closest I’ve ever come to missing a game. I’m not sure anyone even noticed.”


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