Over this past summer, I had the opportunity to talk with NHL official Paul Devorski. He’s officiated over 1,400 games and I wanted to get his perspective on some things that many NHL fans don’t often hear about. Here’s the conversation I had with him:
KF: How did you get into officiating?
PD: I was playing senior A hockey. It was my 3rd year playing senior A. I was getting tired of playing hockey and a reporter asked me ‘what are you going to do next year?’ and I said well you’re going to referee like your father and I said well, I might.’ Next thing you know the reporter puts in the paper ‘Devorski trades in stick for whistle’. Then I started refereeing the next year doing some kids hockey and in nearly a year later I got hired onto the USA.
KF: What was it like to coach your first NHL game?
PD: I kind of had an idea because every year up until then they always give you exhibition games in the NHL so you’ve already worked in an NHL building, but I was still pretty nervous. I flew my dad down from Geulph and brought him to the game. He thought that was pretty cool.
KF: Did you ever think you would officiate over 1,400 games?
PD: No, not at that point, because at that time a lot of guys weren’t working over 1,000 games, so I wasn’t even looking down that road. As the years and games piled up, the next thing you know you’re doing 1,000 games. This year, I’ll probably end up doing my 1,500th game.
KF: How much travel is involved, compared to that of players?
PD: There’s actually quite a bit of travel. You figure with 30 cities, they try to make sure that you see each city or each team the same amount of times. They don’t want me seeing Washington 10 times and only seeing New Jersey two times. It’s hard to do, but they try to travel you around so you get to see every team X amount of times, so that keeps you busy. Our road trips are anywhere from a week to 10 days. Then you come home for 4-5 days and then you go on the road again.
KF: What do referees go through on a daily basis? What are some things that fans don’t realize?
PD: I’ll tell you what. The difference between us and the team is after the game, the team that’s playing that game, that visiting team are getting on a bus going right to the airport, and they’re flying to that next game. With us, if i’m working in LA i’m doing that game, I’m going back to the hotel, I’m getting up early in the morning, and I’m taking a flight to Phoenix to get to my next game. For the most time, we’re traveling by ourself.
KF: What’s the best part of the job?
PD: The best part of the job is doing the game itself. The three hours that you’re on the ice, doing that game. I find it most enjoyable. Honestly, the travel gets wear and tare on you, but the best part I find is doing the game, especially if you do a good job and everyone is happy, then you walk away that night, go back to the room and have a beer.
KF: I’ve heard many people say that if you aren’t noticed during the game, then you’re doing your job right. Would you agree with that?
PD: I would agree with that. In the old days that was more the case. I think nowadays with the media and the coverage, they seem to focus more on your personal life. If you do a good job, that night, you don’t really hear anything. If you miss a couple of calls, well there’s bloody hell for that. They seem to notice when you have a bad game. They never notice when you have a good one.
KF: How challenging is it to officiate a sport that is moving so quickly? Fans can get on your back pretty quick.
PD: I’ve never done any other sport besides watching it. We’re on skates and the speed of the game is so fast now. We’re always trying to get out of the way. You want to put yourself in a spot on the ice where you’re not going to break up a play, or run into players. It’s pretty tough getting out of the way out there, I’ll tell you that.
KF: What was it like to work in the Stanley Cup Finals? How different is that from the regular season?
PD: It’s totally different than the regular season. It’s pretty nerve-wracking, but actually very exciting to do. I’ve been lucky to go to the Finals seven times, but every time it’s different. You don’t want to say that you’re nervous, but I guess you are. If you’re not nervous, you’re not human. A lot of us guys don’t get to work it. I’ve been lucky to work a few.
KF: You and your brother, Greg, are the only two brothers in NHL history to officiate together? What does that mean to you?
I get that a lot. The funny part is I know Greg a lot better now than growing up. I was long gone and he was still home, and I started getting into officiating, and down the road he got into it, so it’s actually pretty cool when we get to do games together.
KF: Is there such a thing as make up calls in the NHL?
PD: Well, I’m going to say in today’s game, that we don’t do make ups. You might have got a way with it when the game was on the radio back when hockey wasn’t a big TV product. Today with TV, guys don’t make up calls. They just dont do it because if it’s not a penalty, we shouldn’t be calling it.
KF: Do you have a favorite arena that you enjoy working in the most?
PD: Chicago is probably one of the best, because it’s the loudest of all the arenas. Right from the National anthem on I get goosebumps and you’re pumped up for the game. Detroit is a good rink to work because it’s one of the older rinks and they have good fans there and it’s a real good atmosphere.
KF: Do you enjoy coming to Buffalo for games?
PD: Oh yeah, I love working in Buffalo because I get to go to Guelph and visit my parents for a day. I’ll drive down, do the game in Buffalo, and then drive back to Guelph after the game to stay at my parents house. So, I like when I see Buffalo on my schedule.