Hockey Hall of Fame forward Guy Lafleur was an icon in Quebec, Canada, having played junior-A and major-junior in the province before spending 14 years with the NHL’s Montreal Canadiens and his final two with the Quebec Nordiques, who, of course, moved to Colorado in 1995.
Among his admirers was Montreal-born referee Dave Jackson, who now calls Colorado home.
Jackson worked his first NHL game in Quebec during what would become Lafleur’s final season in 1990-91, and as you can imagine, the 28-year-old guy with the whistle was a tad nervous. After all, it was a one-referee system back then.
“Growing up in Montreal, Guy Lafleur was the man,” Jackson said of his childhood idol. “I was pretty good until I dropped the puck. Once the game started, it’s usually the other way around. I’m usually nervous until the game starts and then I’m fine. This one, I felt pretty good until the game started and then I realized, ‘Wow, it’s up to me. I’m out there by myself.’ I was pretty nervous until I called my first penalty. And then I felt OK.”
Twenty-eight years later, having called games featuring stars such as Gretzky, Lemieux, Messier and Sakic, the nerves long ago subsided but the joy of being on the ice has never faded. And when the Avalanche hosts the Anaheim Ducks on Monday in a MLK Jr. Day matinee, he’ll celebrate refereeing more than 1,500 career games.
Jackson, 53, is the NHL’s longest-tenured referee and is scheduled to retire after this season, but will continue to live in Highlands Ranch with his family. A strong retirement package from the league includes a percentage of his salary over the next four years, and Jackson intends to take his time in finding a second career while playing men’s league hockey at every opportunity.
“I wish I would have moved here 20 years ago,” he said.
In his 25th season as a full-time NHL referee and 29th year as an NHL-American Hockey League employee, Jackson reached 1,500 career games Nov. 20 in Minnesota, his 17th game into the 2017-18 season, but he was wary of planning a celebration because he was unsure he would reach the milestone. And he wanted to celebrate it in Colorado.
A torn labrum in his left hip prevented Jackson from working more a few games last season, and with the pace of play in the NHL, referees must be in excellent shape. They report to training camp every September with strict goals in weight and strength.
Referees work six preseason games, 73 regular-season games and get bonus pay for the playoffs. Jackson estimates that he’s skated more than 7,500 miles in his career, and has handed out more than 5,000 penalties. His wife, Jill, believes he’s spent more than 10 years in a hotel while on the job.
“There were times last year that I thought I was done,” Jackson said. “I thought I wasn’t going to get to my 1,500th game and leave on my own terms. When you work that long you, you want to leave on your own terms. But on Nov. 20, I didn’t want to plan a party contingent on my 17th game because I wasn’t sure my hip would hold up. You need a couple months to plan a party.”
Brad Watson is delaying that party. Watson, the second of three full-time NHL referees living in Colorado and one of Jackson’s closest friends, has agreed to extend his career and make 2018-19 his final season. The 56-year-old Watson is the NHL’s oldest referee and approaching 1,300 career games. He was honored by the Avalanche at the Pepsi Center on Jan. 21, 2014, before working his 1,000th game.
The Saskachewan native, who also resides in Highlands Ranch, told the NHL Officials Association to sign him up for another season Thursday after meeting with his family over the holidays.
“I still love being on the ice, love the challenge. And once you leave, it’s over,” Watson said. “I get to work with the young guys and share what the senior guys taught me. Pay-it-forward type of thing.”
Watson was a late-bloomer, joining the NHL at age 36 in 1999 from the AHL. He said he was only expected to work to age 45 before the two-man system was introduced for 2000-2001 and helped prolong his career. His last single-ref game was Feb. 21, 2000, when Boston’s Marty McSorley delivered a two-handed slash to the temple of Vancouver’s Donald Brashear in what remains one of the NHL’s ugliest incidents.
In today’s NHL, there’s far less fighting and even light slashes to the stick or hand area are penalized. Jackson and Watson don’t worry about sorting out a line brawl as much as getting out of the way of the play.
“The game is so much faster than when I started,” Jackson said. “Taking out the red line (two-line pass), the players are faster, the equipment is better, the shots are harder and the sticks and ice are better. And the rules are better. We’ve done a good job of opening up the game.”
Like seemingly all on-ice officials, Jackson and Watson played youth hockey and aspired to take it as far as they could. But Jackson began to referee at age 14 for a different reason.
“I just wanted to earn money and not have a paper route or wash dishes,” Jackson said. “And I felt it would help my skating, help my hockey knowledge. I always wanted to be a player.”
Jackson wasn’t a good enough player to make it in the NHL. But only 17 NHL players have participated in more NHL games than him. For that, he’s a bona fide NHLer.
NHL referees in Colorado
— Dave Jackson, 53, of Highlands Ranch is the most tenured active NHL referee and the sixth to work 1,500 games. The Canadian native has worked two conference finals (83 playoff games overall), two all-star games and one Olympics (Sochi 2014).
— Brad Watson, 56, also a Canadian living in Highlands Ranch, is the NHL’s oldest ref and approaching 1,300 career games. He has worked eight Stanley Cup Finals and 15 conference finals plus several Olympics.
— Tom Chmielewski, 30, is a Colorado Springs native who is in his first full-time NHL season, and fourth overall. He played youth hockey in Colorado Springs, Liberty High School and Colorado State (club).
Article source: https://www.denverpost.com/2018/01/12/dave-jackson-nhl-referee/