Sunday, March 29, 2009

He's earned those stripes and soon he'll be taking them off

It's not often that the league celebrates its officials, far too often the guys in the zebra suits hear nothing but the negatives whether it be from television commentators, feature writers or less than complimentary fans.

But Saturday it was a love fest of sorts for Don Koharski, the long time NHL referee who is winding down his on ice career, counting down the last days until his final game in Tampa on April 9. Numerous newspaper articles have sprung up about that final game and Hockey Night in Canada ran a very well done feature on his achievements as part of the pre game Inside Hockey portion of the show for March 28.

Koharski's 32 years as an official will come to an end on April 9, 2,139 games in the NHL either as a linesman or a referee, most of them routine, a few fascinating and one memorable and more than controversial.

He will forever be linked at the hip with Jim Schoenfeld, the one time coach of the New Jersey Devils who is forever enshrined in hockey lore for his outburst at Koharski during the playoffs of 1988, a game three match in the Prince of Wales finals which saw Schoenfeld screaming at the referee about his portliness and perhaps an affection for doughnuts.

As would be the case, Koharski actually isn't a fan of doughnuts, but probably could have made a fortune in endorsements had he wanted to, such was the legend of his run in with Schoenfeld.

The two long ago patched up any differences over the incident, with Koharski going so far as to bring Schoenfeld a box of the confections prior to the debut of Koharski's son as a referee in the AHL.

Perhaps that explains his longevity in a sport that must rank high among the stressful ones for sports officials, keeping a sense of humour and sense of the moment probably is testimony to his on ice success, when he puts down his whistle on April 9th the NHL will be bidding goodbye to not only a long time employee but a valuable part of a key element of the game.

It's said that he has hopes to join the league office in supervisory capacity, one would hope that the NHL has plans for his knowledge of the game and his humour in tough situations, he can have the summer off to grab some coffee and even sneak a doughnut if he really wants to, by September though the up and coming officials of the league more than likely could make use of his history and his contributions to the game.

London Free Press-- Koharski's exit a quiet one

Photo from the Vancouver Sun website

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