Last season, AHL/ECHL referee Nic Leduc suffered a traumatic injury prior to working a scheduled game back in April. He had a lengthy stay in the hospital as he recovered from his injuries. At times, there was concern he would never return to the ice. Friends and fellow officials helped pitch in to raise funds for Leduc’s medical bills.
Seven months later, Leduc has finally returned to the ice. He’s now in his fifth season as an ECHL referee, with two Kelly Cup Finals under his belt. He likely would’ve worked his third straight last season, if not for his unfortunate injury. He’s back out on the ice this season and hoping to pick up where he left off.
Any good hockey referee has to be able to ignore the jeers and second-guessing of the fans. Not all referees, though, actually appreciate being able to hear the reaction of the crowd.
Nic Leduc, 30, knows he’s fortunate to be able skating and calling ECHL games. And since he’s without two of his senses – smell and taste – he has a greater appreciation for the sense of hearing, even from the notoriously critical Fort Wayne fans.
“For sure, (the fans’ boos are) a part of the business I do. Every night, you get booed and told, ‘You suck.’ But I’m just happy to be out there and even be able to hear it,” Leduc said.
Last April, Leduc was slated to call a Komets game at Memorial Coliseum, but he never arrived and was found in a Des Moines, Iowa, hotel room, where he had called a game in the American Hockey League before mysteriously suffering a traumatic brain injury. He was unconscious on a bed and in a pool of his own blood and vomit, where he had been for hours. Leduc’s family was unsure if he would survive, not to mention ever officiate a hockey game again.
“Nobody knows what happened,” Leduc said. “But the detectives, the police, think that I fell down when I finished my shower and that I had knocked my head on the bath. There was blood and puke everywhere in the bathroom, and I must have gotten back up and gotten into bed, where they found me in more blood and puke.”
Leduc had suffered a fractured skull and a concussion and spent 14 days in the hospital. Though he remembers, with perfect clarity, the days leading up to his trip to Des Moines, there is a gap in his recollections of more than 11 days.
“The first 11 days in the hospital, my dad was telling me that I had been sleeping 22 hours out of 24,” said Leduc, who is from Granby, Quebec. “When the doctors and nurses came, I was aggressive and I was always saying just what I was thinking, talking in French. But the doctors told my family that’s natural.”
After racking up $150,000 in medical bills – he was covered by insurance through the AHL – he was able to skate again in late July and returned to working ECHL games this season.
Aside from not being able to taste or smell, senses he’s not sure will ever return, he’s back to being one of the ECHL’s top referees. In his only game at the Coliseum this season, a 3-1 victory over Kalamazoo on Nov. 20, he was on top of the play to rule a Kyle Thomas goal in, even though the puck barely crossed the goal line before Wings defenseman Steve McCarthy swept the puck out.
“You saw, I’m a natural out there,” Leduc said, jokingly, though there’s some truth – he’s in the pipeline to potentially work in the NHL someday, having attended prospect camps for four years.
He was a quality defenseman in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and for the University of Quebec, before he realized he had the skating ability and smarts to make it further as a referee than a player.
“I knew as a hockey player, I didn’t have that opportunity (to make it to the NHL). I could have played in the ECHL or something like that, but that would have been the max. There was no possibility to go beyond that,” Leduc said. “But as a referee, I felt I could have a career.
“Although, come to think of it, I’m still in the ECHL.”
He is slated to call a game at the Coliseum on Jan. 16 between the Komets and Rapid City Rush.
Whatever that night brings – cheers or jeers from the fans – he will appreciate the opportunity to preside over the game.
“I’m a happy guy in life, naturally, but since this happened, everything is green for me,” he said.
It’s great to see referee Nic Leduc back out on the ice. Best of luck to him as he resumes his officiating career.
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