NHL Linesman Andy McElman has spent 22 years in the NHL. He’s worked playoff games, an outdoor game, an All-Star Game, and even made his way over to work the 2014 Olympics. As of Sunday, March 8, he’ll be able to put another notch in his whistle — 1,400 games in the National Hockey League.

McElman, an Illinois native, made his NHL debut on October 7, 1993, when he took the ice to work a game between the Florida Panthers and the St. Louis Blues. Brendan Shanahan had a hat trick for the Blues in that one, leading his team to a 5-3 victory.

“I was a little nervous for my first NHL game,” McElman said. “I made a mistake in the first period, making a wrong call on a two-line pass to Brett Hull. I was bummed out after the first period, and Leon Stickle, my fellow linesman, hollered at me, `Hey, kid, you’re not gonna quit now, are you?’ I’m glad I didn’t.

“That same year I worked my first game in the old Chicago Stadium. What a thrill that was. Darryl Sutter, the Hawks coach at the time, was coming down the stairs after the game and said, `How was it working in the barn, kid?’ I’ll never forget that.”

Seven years later, McElman worked his first playoff game, a first-round meeting between the Edmonton Oilers and the Dallas Stars. He also went on to officiate the 2002 All-Star Game in Los Angeles.

Winter Classic Homecoming

In 2009, McElman, born in Chicago Heights, Illinois, was chosen to officiate the 2009 Winter Classic at Wrigley Field between the Detroit Red Wings and the Chicago Blackhawks.

“It’s a special game because I was born and raised in the Chicago area and it’ll be very special for the fans and the players,” McElman told NHL.com before the game. “I started playing organized hockey when we moved to Palatine [Illinois], but always found time to go down to Community Park and skate outdoors there. They had a warming house and lots of hot chocolate. I remember many a day that I couldn’t feel my toes, but that never really stopped us much.”

McElman Goes to Sochi

In 2014, McElman was selected to be one of the 28 officials to work the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. He was one of six Americans officiating the tournament.

“It’s the best in the world playing and competing in a very short amount of time,” McElman said before heading to Sochi. “They bring it and they play hard and it’s going to be very exciting.

“I don’t know how else to say it. It’s going to be a very memorable experience to work that level of hockey. A lot of these players carry a very strong feeling for their country and they will complete for that. That’s what makes it great event to participate in.”

“It’s awesome to be selected,” he said. “I just can’t put it into words what it will be mean to go and work there. I just can’t tell you what it means.”

A Career On Hold

McElman nearly saw his officiating career come to an end in 2012.  The linesman was hit in the face with the puck during a game between the Florida Panthers and the Washington Capitals.

“I was very upset; I did a lot of cursing,” he said of the incident. “It was just a fluke scenario. I go to check the clock for the penalty time and I go back to follow the puck, and here it is being shot at me. I was more upset about it that it happened than hurting. It really didn’t register just how bad it was. It broke my nose; actually it shattered my nose. It cracked my orbital and broke my cheekbone.”

Linesman Andy McElman

Linesman Andy McElman (Akhi Photography)

The injury saw McElman sidelined for the remainder of the season.  He returned to the ice in time for the lockout-shortened 2013-14 season.

1,400 Games and Counting

Now, with Sunday night’s game under his belt, Andy McElman will have reached the 1,400-game milestone.

“Andy has a job that only 33 other men do,” NHL officiating manager Don Koharski told the Chicago Tribune. “It’s a tribute to his roots, his background. He grew up in an area with a high level of hockey, and he took it upon himself to do whatever it took to get here. He kept taking the extra step and stayed dedicated to the game. Now he’s made it to the top.”

“Andy’s really worked his way up to become a solid linesman,” said former NHLer and fellow Chicago native Ed Olczyk. “Andy takes real pride in his work. It’s nice to see local guys make it to the NHL.”

McElman spoke about what makes a good linesman:

“Being constantly aware is the key to being a good linesman. You have to concentrate for 60 minutes. You have to be able to skate very well, and you consistently have to be in the right place at the right time. You have to react to what’s happening, and you have to react to what could happen. You have to see and read everything on the ice, because these great players compete at a very high level of speed. And I’ll tell you, I love it. Working with your partners, the teamwork, skating, breaking up scraps — I love being involved in the game.”

For a guy with 1,400 NHL games to his name, McElman knows what he’s talking about.

Congratulations to Andy on a terrific, 22-year career of 1,400 games.  We’ll be looking forward to many more.