The Final Whistle

NHL Linesman Andy McElman Wraps Up His Career With Milestone Game On Home Ice
By: 
Scott Powers

Andy McElman received a warm send off from players, fans and arena personnel during his final NHL game on April 3 at the United Center in Chicago.Andy McElman received a warm send off from players, fans and arena personnel during his final NHL game on April 3 at the United Center in Chicago.

Jaromir Jagr and Andy McElman conversed a few years ago about how they would keep their respective NHL careers going—Jagr as a player and McElman as a linesman—until they were forced out of the league.

Both said they enjoyed what they did too much to hang up their skates simply due to age.
“[Jagr said], ‘Well, as long as they keep paying me I’m going to keep playing,’” McElman recalled. “I said the same with me.”

When the 54-year-old McElman saw the 44-year-old Jagr at a game this season, McElman broke the news to him that he was retiring at the end of the season. Jagr was undoubtedly against it.

“He started telling me, ‘Andy, don’t let them do it, don’t let them do it,’” McElman said while laughing.

Not only did McElman retire on his own terms, he made sure his final game after 23 years as an NHL official would be his most memorable. Before friends and family at the United Center in Chicago, less than 30 minutes from where he grew up in Palatine, Ill., he officiated his 1,500th and final NHL game on April 3.

“Just to do them both at the same time is surreal, and it’s too perfect of a story—an afternoon game [featuring] two original six teams, the game definitely [meant] something to both teams—and have all that come together on this one day, you couldn’t plan it any better,” McElman said minutes after his final game.

“Fortunately, we show up and become professionals for the 60 minutes we’re out there. Inside, you’re consistently thinking holy [cow] this is the end. So, it’s pretty crazy.”

Joined by his family on the ice before the game, McElman was honored for his milestone and long career with a red-carpet ceremony and was presented with gifts. The Boston Bruins and Chicago Blackhawks then treated him to a game that included playoff implications, 10 goals, eight penalties, captains Jonathan Toews and Zdeno Chara needing to be separated, a coach’s challenge and even an important late offsides’ call, which McElman got right. McElman did make sure to pocket the game’s final puck as a souvenir.

“You knew it was coming, but you’re never prepared for it,” McElman said. “I try to prepare for it. It becomes overwhelming emotionally right now.”

McElman was especially touched that players from both teams lined up to congratulate him on his career and shake his hand following the game.

Chicago Blackhawks superstar Patrick Kane was among the players from both teams to wish retiring linesman Andy McElman well after his 1,500th and final NHL game at the United Center on April 3, 2016.Chicago Blackhawks superstar Patrick Kane was among the players from both teams to wish retiring linesman Andy McElman well after his 1,500th and final NHL game at the United Center on April 3, 2016.

“Unreal,” he said. “You don’t know how people feel about you and stuff when you’re out there. There’s a lot of cursing and swearing going on over the years. You don’t know where it lies. I think all the players recognize that it is a game, it is a business, but at the end we’re all human.

“What stands out to me is the class the sport of hockey has. The recognition of the players at the end of the game just demonstrates how close the hockey community is. You don’t see that reaction happen in any other professional sport where an official is retiring and/or hitting a milestone. The players and the fans actually recognize everybody is human and that they deserve a little recognition. It was really moving to have that happen.”

It was a fitting end to his NHL career. It began in 1993 with him incorrectly calling a two-line pass on Brett Hull, and Hull telling him, “Don’t worry about it, kid.’ In the middle, he officiated playoff games, the outdoor game at Wrigley Field, an all-star game in Los Angeles and the Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

McElman never took the job for granted and knows how fortunate he is to have worked 1,500 games.

“Hard work, dedication and perseverance,” he said, in explaining his long career. “I always approached the game as bringing energy to it all the time. I always enjoyed skating. I always had a blast zipping around the ice. Fifteeen hundred games of doing that is a pretty big milestone for me.”

McElman also witnessed officiating in the United States grow and develop from when he first came up.

“I think with hockey in the United States there’s a whole lot of opportunities now than there were back then,” McElman said. “There’s many different leagues that are available to get involved in and see where they fall as far as their abilities and what they can strive to reach. USA Hockey is stronger than ever I think right now. Officials have as much opportunity as any of the players that are playing just because of the variety of leagues, I think.”

McElman hopes to spend more time working with USA Hockey to mentor younger officials to follow his path to the NHL. He may not be on the same ice as Jagr any longer, but he’ll be on a sheet somewhere continuing to be involved in the game he loves.

“I can’t believe it’s over,” he said. “It was awesome. It was an awesome 20-plus years. I always loved doing it. I’m going to miss doing it. You can’t express how emotional it is. We do this because we love it. We love the sport. We’re passionate about officiating and being involved in the game, and that’s the hardest part you’re going to miss.”

Scott Powers is a freelance writer based in Chicago.
Issue: 
2016-08

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