Two of the National Hockey League’s long-time linesmen will be calling it a career on Sunday.
After a combined 33 years and over 3,400 regular season games, linesmen Brad Lazarowich and Andy McElman will work their final games in the NHL.
Lazarowich will hit the ice for the final time Sunday in Winnipeg with referees Wes McCauley and Chris Lee along with linesman Shane Heyer as the Jets take on the Minnesota Wild. McElman’s career will come to a close in Chicago, as he works the Original Six matchup between the Blackhawks and Boston Bruins with fellow linesman Brian Murphy and referees Tom Kowal and Brad Watson.
Lazarowich’s career has come full circle. It ends in Winnipeg, the same place it began nearly 30 years ago. The Vancouver native made his NHL debut on October 9, 1986, as the Buffalo Sabres visited the Winnipeg Jets. Since then, those Jets have moved to Phoenix, and later to Glendale, while the expansion Atlanta Thrashers relocated to Winnipeg to become the second incarnation of the Jets. During that time, Lazarowich has handled 1,971 regular season games, more than any other active linesman.
“It’s amazing how quickly the time has gone,” Lazarowich said back in 2014. “It was a lot of nights away from the family but a lot of fun as well.”
The 53-year-old official will finish his career just shy of the 2000-game mark. Only five linesmen – Ray Scapinello, Randy Mitten, Gerard Gauthier, Dan Schachte, and Mark Pare – have done so. Lazarowich was on track to reach that milestone before a torn tricep kept him sidelined for 13 weeks. Nonetheless, he worked hard to make it back to the ice and finish out his final NHL season.
Lazarowich has officiated 204 playoff games, including appearances in three Stanley Cup Finals. He worked the World Cup of Hockey in 1996 and 2004, as well as the 1996 All-Star Game and the 2014 Heritage Classic.
“I put in my high school annual that I wanted to work in the National Hockey League as an on-ice official,” Lazarowich told NHL.com. “I knew back when I was 18 years old that’s what I wanted to do.”
McElman, a Chicago native, will celebrate his 1500th and final NHL game on Sunday. The 54-year-old linesman made his NHL debut on October 3, 1993, just 262 miles away in St. Louis, Missouri. That was also where he worked on Friday night, manning the lines for a game between the Blues and the Boston Bruins. For his final match, though, McElman headed home.
McElman was one of fourteen linesmen selected to work the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.
“[Officiating the Olympics] is a huge honor, something I never dreamed would come true,” McElman said. “This is something you put on the to-do list, and something you long aspire to reach. But rarely do you get to those goals.”
McElman has also donned the stripes for the 2002 All-Star Game in Los Angeles and the 2009 Winter Classic at Chicago’s Wrigley Field.
“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.”
With Lazarowich and McElman retiring, as well as Mike Cvik’s retirement earlier this year, Brian Murphy takes over the lead in most regular season games worked among active linesmen. (Technically, Shane Heyer has more overall games, but he came into the season with 1,411 as a linesman and 386 as a referee. Murphy started the year with 1,625 as a linesman and 86 as a referee. If we’re talking linesmen-games, it’s Murph. Overall, it’s Heyer.)
Our best wishes to Brad Lazarowich and Andy McElman on their retirement.