Referee Dennis LaRue is the latest NHL official to hang up his skates. He joins referees Greg Kimmerly and Rob Martell and linesmen Mike Cvik, Brad Lazarowich, and Andy McElman, all of whom announced their retirements earlier this year.
LaRue, 56, leaves the NHL having worked 1,222 games — the most by an American referee in the league. He’s also seen action in 58 playoff games, including the 2009 Stanley Cup Finals.
Among active referees, only Dave Jackson (1,481) and Dan O’Halloran (1,228) have more regular season games officiated. All-time, LaRue ranks eighth, trailing Kerry Fraser (1,904), Bill McCreary (1,737), Don Koharski (1,701), Dan Marouelli (1,622), Paul Devorski (1,592), Jackson, and O’Halloran.
LaRue made his NHL debut on March 26, 1991, working a game between the Boston Bruins and Quebec Nordiques. That was back in the days of the three-man crew, with just one referee on the ice. Ron Finn and Bob Hodges manned the lines. They had their hands full, with Quebec’s Tony Twist and Boston’s Chris Nilan combining for 47 penalty minutes in the game — a 7-4 win for the Bruins.
LaRue was born in Savannah, Georgia – not exactly a hockey hotbed, especially in 1959, when the southernmost NHL club was the New York Rangers. The son of a military man, LaRue’s family moved around, later landing in Spokane, Washington. Dennis took up playing hockey, like his father had, but soon made a switch to the team in stripes.
“To be honest, officiating was a great way to get more ice time, and it helped put a few coins in the jeans, as it were,” LaRue said. “I started out lining games, but it was a pretty natural progression for me to become a referee. I spent a lot of time at the arena. I’d ref two or three games in the morning and then play a game in my own league in the afternoon.”
From the NHLOA:
Dennis began his officiating career in the Kootenay International League – a Junior B league based in British Columbia – before working his way into the Western Hockey League, Western Collegiate Hockey Association, American Hockey League and International Hockey League. He was selected by USA Hockey to represent the U.S. as an official at the 1986 International Ice Hockey Federation World Men’s Championship in Moscow and the 1988 Olympic Winter Games in Calgary.
LaRue’s exposure led to an officiating career in the National Hockey League that has spanned two decades. He has worked more NHL games than any other American referee on record, passing Paul Stewart’s previous record of 1,010 on the final day of the 2010-11 regular season. In 2009, LaRue became only the second-ever American referee to work a Stanley Cup Finals, joining Hockey Hall of Famer Bill Chadwick.
LaRue and Chadwick were later joined by Boston native Chris Rooney, who worked the Cup Finals in 2012 and 2013. In 2010, LaRue became only the third referee ever to work four Olympic Winter Games, having suited up in 1988 (before he joined the NHL), 2002, 2006, and 2010.
LaRue was honored with a Distinguished Achievement Award in 2011 by USA Hockey:
“When I got into the WHL, I did my first serious work,” he said. “But I never felt that this was my career or that I was on the road to something I’d be doing all these years later. At that time, officiating definitely wasn’t my career objective.”
LaRue certainly made quite a career out of it.
His last NHL game came on December 5, 2014, with the Montreal Canadiens taking on the Chicago Blackhawks.
“It’s a young man’s game,” LaRue said, back in 2014. “I believe [refereeing] has kept me younger than my age.”