The Philadelphia Flyers are the most penalized team in the league, averaging 17.5 PIM per game.  Zac Rinaldo, Wayne Simmonds and Jay Rosehill all have over 30 penalty minutes.  Steve Downie has a team high 55 penalty minutes, though most of those were earned with the Colorado Avalanche.

They’ll be meeting up with the Buffalo Sabres, who boast four players with over 30 penalty minutes per game in Steve Ott, Tyler Myers, Cody McCormick, and the recently-suspended John Scott.

It’s a pretty intimidating bunch that could make for a rough game.

For referee Jon McIsaac, it’ll be his first in the NHL.  McIsaac makes his NHL officiating debut on Thursday night in Philadelphia.

Jon McIsaac (#45) via NHLOA

Jon McIsaac (#45) via NHLOA

The 29-year old Nova Scotian first donned the stripes at age 15, starting off as a linesman. Two years later, he officiated the Canada Winter Games. By 19, he’d worked his way up to the QMJHL as a linesman. He’d also begun refereeing in the junior ranks.  He moved up to become a full-time referee in the Q at age 21 and in the CHL by 25.  In 2007, McIsaac made the jump into the professional ranks, signing a deal with the ECHL and AHL.

In 2012, at age 29, Jon McIsaac signed a contract to become an official in the National Hockey League. He talked about the new job last year:

“There’s not really any kind of words that can describe it. To work that hard for 12 years, and the ultimate goal in hockey is to get to the NHL, so to get there hasn’t even set in yet. It’s crazy.  I guess the last couple years it was really on my mind that I had a real good chance to make it [to the NHL], but before that it was just always trying to get to the next level. And even now, you still have to work harder to get there fulltime, and once you’re there fulltime you have to work harder to get to the playoffs … it’s never-ending.”

With each level, the games get faster and the players get more skilled.  McIsaac is looking forward to the high level of talent in the NHL, both with the players and with his peers:

“It’s not just the players, but just to be out there with the best referees in the world and linesmen and the best coaches around, it’s going to be something special for sure.”

McIsaac spent last season officiating in the ECHL and AHL.  He’s worked four preseason games this year, including one between the Flyers and Capitals that totaled 50 minutes in penalties, but this is his first NHL appearance when the points matter.

“I’m really excited,” McIsaac said. “I’ve worked my whole career for this, so it’s really exciting and it’s a big step for me.”

McIsaac and Holtby

The rookie referee is well prepared for his assignment.  Nelson Thompson, a former AHL referee and former mentor to McIsaac, spoke about his student’s approach to officiating:

“He always took advice from anyone he could get it from, no matter if it was what he wanted to hear or not,”

“He’s got the temperament for [refereeing],” Thompson said. “He just doesn’t get rattled on the ice and that makes life a lot easier for you out there.”

Like most NHL call-ups, McIsaac’s stay will be a short one.

McIsaac will be back to the AHL by the weekend, though at least he’ll get to stay in Pennsylvania.  He’s slated to work Wilkes-Barre vs. St John’s on Saturday and Hershey vs. Binghamton on Sunday.

He’ll be back in the NHL, though, before the year’s end.  His second NHL assignment will be on Dec. 16 when the Dallas Stars visit the Colorado Avalanche.

Hopefully, for McIsaac, there will be many more to follow.