Hockey

Going Off Ice with Former NHL Off-Ice Officials By Matt Blittner, The New York Extra/TheNYExtra.com

“Ref, get some glasses!”

Be honest, if you’ve ever been to a professional sports event you’ve likely heard something similar to the above statement. It doesn’t matter what language you speak or what sport you watch, but the “tradition” is the same; fans — young and old — boo and heckle the officials who are responsible for making split-second decisions on the field/ice/court/diamond/etc.

HOWEVER, there is a group of NHL Officials who are exempt from the wrath of fans and they are the hard working Off-Ice Officials; who, without them, the game could not properly function. And every team in the league has a dedicated crew of Off-Ice guys who handle their home games; unlike the Referees and Line Judges who rotate throughout the entire league. 

There are many different roles an NHL Off-Ice Official can hold and many of them rotate these roles on a semi-regular basis. 

There are those in charge of working the penalty boxes (they probably hear and witness the funniest moments the TV cameras don’t catch). There are others who are in charge of keeping track of the official game statistics and deciding which players are credited with what (i.e. goals, primary assists, secondary assists and more). 

Before modern technology became as advanced as it has, there were even officials who were responsible for turning the goal lights on to alert everybody in the arena — from the players on the ice, all the way to the fans and media in the stands — that the puck had entered the net for a goal.

Those are just some of the many responsibilities the NHL Off-Ice Officials hold. 

If you want a bigger list of the roles, here they are: goal judges, game time-keeper, penalty time-keeper, penalty box attendants, commercial coordinator, official scorer, scoring staffers, video replay judge and spott

On Saturday Morning, April 10th, we at TheNYExtra.com had the chance to chat with several former Off-Ice guys at The Rinx in Hauppauge, Long Island. Those who we interviewed were: Jimmy Sullivan, Vin Godleski and Tom Palamara; all three of whom had accumulated close to a century of combined experience as Off-Ice Officials. 

You may ask, why would anybody want to have one of these jobs? Well, quite simply, they do it for the love of the game. (After all, these are generally second- or even third-jobs for them and they are considered to be part-time game-night workers). Oh and by the way, many of the NHL’s Off-Ice Officials, whether they’re retired from the league or not, still play hockey in some form in their spare time; regardless of age. 

Our final guest of the day was Ricky Tully, who while not an NHL Off-Ice guy, has played alongside Sullivan and other NHL-lifers for quite some time. And again, it’s all for the love of the game. 

Tully of course had his hockey fandom and future hockey playing influenced by the likes of Ed Giacomin and Rod Gilbert; which is a testament to the legacies of those players.

Heck, Sullivan and Godleski are 84-years-old (they don’t look it) and Sullivan especially is still active on the hockey playing circuit.

Can you just imagine loving the game that much that you’d still be playing it when you approach that age? But hey, age is just a number right?

Palamara, who is a Spring Chicken compared to Sullivan and Godleski is currently the President of The Rinx and continues to enjoy the game of hockey through the various teams, leagues and activities held at the facility, which is located at 660 Terry Road in Hauppauge, Long Island. And if you’re an Islanders fan, you’ll appreciate some of the decor as the team’s logo is splashed all over the dressing room we turned into a studio for this feature. 

But getting back to the lives of the Off-Ice guys.

There was an incident in the Rangers-Islanders game on Friday April 9th that got me thinking about something. You see, Islanders’ defenseman Andy Greene scored a goal — his first regular-season goal as a member of the team. Only, it wasn’t quite so cut and dry. 

The Official Scorer for the game changed the credit for the goal to Jordan Eberle as Eberle appeared to have ever so slightly deflected the puck at the last second. However, not long after, the Scorer changed it back to Greene; quite the whirlwind if you ask me and I’m sure Greene was appreciative to finally have his first regular-season goal with the team. 

That whole back-and-forth got me thinking about just what the process is like for the Scorer, so I made sure to ask Palamara about it as he used to hold down that role when he was an active Off-ice Official.

It’s quite something to hear about exactly what goes on behind the scenes and away from the cameras.

Of course, nothing thrills quite as much as hearing about how three Off-Ice Officials were suddenly thrust into On-Ice duties at a moment’s notice and without the proper prep. 

On May 8, 1988, three of the NHL’s Off-Ice guys, who were in attendance at the Devils playoff game against the Bruins at Brendan Byrne Arena in New Jersey, were unexpectedly thrown into the middle of the NHL’s biggest fiasco at the time; a game that would later be dubbed, “The Yellow Sunday Incident” or the “Have Another Donut Incident.” (As a note, during the playoffs, the NHL would use neutral Off-Ice Officials so as to avoid any potential conflicts).

Without getting into they whole confusing and bemusing situation that was the Yellow Sunday Game, you can either: google the ins and outs of the precise details; you can read about it in my Devils Book: Unforgettable Devils — Games & Moments from the Press Box, Ice & Front Office; or you can read what Larry Brooks (NY Post) wrote about it on the anniversary of the game a few years ago. 

Either way you want to find out what happened is fine, but to keep things brief, then Devils Head Coach, Jim Schoenfeld and then Referee Don Koharski got into a shouting match and possibly physical altercation earlier in the series which led to attempts at legal action and eventually a walkout by the Officials (the On-Ice ones); which ultimately forced Jimmy Sullivan, Vin Godleski and Paul McInnis to become a part of a wacky day in NHL history.

Sullivan was informed about his new role after eating a big meal and didn’t have any of his equipment on hand (like skates), so he needed to borrow; which is never a comfortable experience. Godleski at least had his own skates. However, both had to wear yellow practice shirts because there were no extra uniforms for them. (They were the linesmen while McInnis acted as the Refere

As Sullivan told us for this feature, you never want the story of the game to be about the Referees. If it is, then that means something went wrong. Well, there was no way he, Godleski and McInnis weren’t going to be the story after that game. (even though they did an excellent job under the circumstance

That was most certainly the craziest thing to happen to a group of NHL Off-Ice Officials and the proof is that we’re still so bewildered by it over 30-years later. 

Yellow Sunday aside, the NHL’s Off-Ice Officials are usually well liked by the players, coaches and media alike and they’re just happy to be part of the game they love. And even though they don’t get much, if any, attention from the fans, they are still an integral piece of the Hockey Family and nothing can ever change that.

So, next time you’re walking through the arena at an NHL game, keep your eyes and ears peeled for the Off-Ice Officials and make sure to thank them for their hard work because without them the game of hockey would be a mess.

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