After 1,868 regular season and 88 playoff games, long-time linesman Mike Cvik hung up his size 15 skates this past January, working his final game in his hometown of Calgary, Alberta.
“I got to request some cities, request some guys I wanted to work with and I got to do a lot of things I wanted to do and see a lot of my friends,” the 53-year-old official said of his final season.
We caught up with the recently-retired linesman during a rare moment of down-time to talk hockey.
Scouting the Refs: After 29 years on the ice, how are you enjoying your time off?
Cvik: Well, I haven’t actually hit retirement yet. I don’t know if you heard the story. Broke my ankle with about five and a half minutes left in my last game, so I’ve been doing physiotherapy on it. I just got the walking boot off, so it’s just starting to come around. I’m still doing physio on it and my daughter has soccer and ballet, so I’m busier now than I was when I was traveling [as an official] because I didn’t have to worry about all this other stuff!
Lightning forward J.T. Brown clipped Cvik’s skates, knocking him down in front of the Flames’ bench. Cvik’s skate appeared to get caught in the ice as he fell.
I’m at the point now where I’m now doing a lot of things during the day that I normally would try to compact into one or two days. I’m playing hockey three or four times a week. I have my daughter’s activities at night and I go see my chiropractor right after I play hockey to work on my ankle, so my days are all filled up. I haven’t had that one stretch where I’m like “Oh, how am I going to fill my day in?”
The retirement thing probably won’t hit me until the Stanley Cup Final is over and I’d be expecting to get an email from Dave Smith on ‘This is the weight we want you at, and this is your physical fitness goal’ and the next one would be ‘Here’s when training camp is’ and then the one after that’ll be ‘Okay, here’s your preseason assignments and this is where you have to be. We’re meeting in Toronto at this time, we’re going to bus to Buffalo.’ It probably won’t hit me until I start missing those emails.
STR: Will you be hearing from those guys? Are you making an appearance at training camp?
Cvik: They’ll bring all five of us back that retired after this season and I guess have a little fun and reminisce about our careers. Training camp’s the only time when we’re all together at one particular time, so that’s the time for the guys to say goodbye to us and us to say goodbye to them one final time. Just get together and have some fun for a couple of days. While they’re out doing their thing, I’ll be sitting in the room. You wanna go down the stairs and into the dressing room and pull on a pair of skates and do the 20 minute warmup and get involved in the hockey games.
STR: Have you been watching hockey since you hung up the skates? Enjoying the playoffs?
Cvik: I usually catch the late game. We’re lucky out here [in Calgary], we have the FAN960 and they broadcast one of the games on the radio, so if I’m driving my daughter around, she’s kind of sick and tired of listening to hockey already on the radio but she does her own thing in the back seat while I’ve got the game on the radio. Once I get her [to her classes], I’m looking for something to do for two hours, so I just go to my buddy’s pub and watch and hour and a half of the game, then wheel back and pick her up. Not bad at all.
STR: Can you just sit back and enjoy the game, or are you still thinking like an official, watching the blueline and the icings?
Cvik: No, I’m watching it like I’m still working. I’m watching not only what goes on around the blue line but I’m watching for other stuff. If there’s a high stick or somebody drills someone from behind, I’m still watching it like I’m working.
I was watching a game with my buddies and it was a shot where the puck went in and out and I’m told them it was a goal. They didn’t believe me. They figured it hit the crossbar, but I told them to trust me that the puck went in. It went to video replay and showed it was in.
They asked, “How’d you do that?”
“Boys,” I told them, “I’ve been doing this for 29 years. That’s what I watch for. I’m not watching the stuff you guys are watching, I’m watching for that kind of stuff.”
STR: Obviously, you’ve had your share of offside calls over the years. What you didn’t have, though, for your first 28 years in the league, was an opportunity for coaches to challenge the call. What’s your take on the Coach’s Challenge?
Cvik: We had a big discussion about it in training camp and it was explained to us it was for the egregious offsides, the ones where it’s ten feet offside and, for whatever reason, we don’t react or we think we saw something that wasn’t there. The one that comes to mind is the Steve Duchene one, because even he turned around when the linesman waved it off and was like, ‘Oh, I’m onside,’ went in, it and fired it top corner. It was brought in for that.
I was speaking at a referee’s banquet and this question was brought up and I said the thing with offside is that offside is not a judgment. It’s black and white. It either is onside or it’s not onside. They brought it in for the egregious offsides, so, where do we go from there? When we tail it back, is it, ‘Well if it’s within two feet we don’t look at it?’ If that’s the case, it could still be offside. The intent of the rule is to right those missed calls. Now we’re getting so fine which is why it’s taking so long to look at these things. You’ve got [multiple] camera angles, [looking to determine] if the guy’s skate is on the ice, is it off the ice, where’s the puck, you can only see part of it. All these things come into play, so that’s why the linesmen’s calls are taking six, seven minutes where the referee’s judgments on goaltender interference — they look at it and go, well it is [interference] or it isn’t.
For [linesmen], there’s so many other things that become involved in whether the play is onside or offside. It’s become that fine a line – we’re talking millimeters now – and the question is still, is it offside or is it onside? You have to have video proof to overturn your call, so, take everything into account. I like the fact that it’s being used to right things that, in years past, nobody would look at twice. Maybe [they’d catch it] a week down the road when they’re reviewing the video and they go, ‘Oh that looks like it was offside.’ Now we’re getting that right away. That’s just the advent of technology and the role that video plays in the game of hockey now, not only from an officiating standpoint but from a playing aspect. I mean, these guys get inundated with video on things they do right and things they do wrong.
STR: We see how video is used for challenges and goal reviews. How about for helping officials improve?
Cvik: Video’s always a good teaching tool. If you have a missed call for whatever reason, you can have it sent to you, you can look at it and go, ‘Oh you know what, I reacted too late, I didn’t have a good angle on it, next time I’m in this situation this is what I need to do.’ As long as you go ahead and do that, you’ve learned something from it.
STR: I’m sure it was helpful for positioning, though you’d think the players would avoid you. You’re a tough guy to miss, especially at 6-foot-9.
Cvik: It was interesting some nights! It’s Murphy’s Law, it didn’t matter what you did, somehow, some way, they found a way to hit you.
I used to joke, sometimes we’d have a really close play at the line and you’d make an offside call and a player would skate by you. They’d look at you and go, “Mike, are you sure on that one?” I’d just look at them and go, “I’ve got the best view in the house. I’ve got the roof cam!”
STR: Your height came in handy when watching the play, but your size – and your wingspan – seemed to help in breaking up fights as well.
Cvik: One of the things that got me hired originally was my size. Back in the late ’80s, we were still having bench clearing brawls and things like that. Players were starting to get bigger so John McCauley and Scotty Morrison figured, with Frank Udvari, that we need to start getting some bigger guys. They’d heard of me out west and figured, “Well, we’ll hire this big guy!”
STR: With over 1,800 games worked, it looks like that was the right call for you and for the league. Obviously, your job has changed since then, with far fewer fights to break up. Do you miss fighting in the game?
Cvik: I don’t know if you miss it. My attitude has always been, if it’s in the course of playing the game of hockey and we end up having a fight, I don’t have a problem with that. That’s two guys battling for a puck or position. They’re playing the game. These other – as the media calls them – ‘staged’ fights, I had no time for those. Those ones irritated me to no end. I get the fact that one team scored three goals and you’re down three and trying to change the momentum of the game. Do it while you’re playing the game, not while talking and standing there for the faceoff. We know they’re going to fight. “Really, boys,” you want to say. “Can you at least wait until I drop the puck?” Even then, though, it’s not in the course of playing the game. It’s already prearranged. Those are the ones that I really didn’t like.
STR: Do you think we’ll see an end to fighting in the NHL?
Cvik: With the way the game is going now, it’s such a skill based game. [Players are] becoming almost pigeonholed. This player might be the seventh forward, but he’s a defensive forward and we stick him out against this guy. When those guys aren’t out there, he’s on the bench because we have this whole other set of guys to go out and play against this group of guys. It’s so skill based now [with matchups] depending on what the other team is doing. The players are so skilled that those rough-and-tumble guys, they don’t fit in any of those categories anymore. Not a lot of teams are carrying those guys anymore because they can’t.
Back when I started, working a Calgary vs. Edmonton game, if you didn’t have six fights, it was a quiet game. Now if you have six fights in ten weeks, it’s [a lot.] There’s been more bench-clearing brawls in baseball than in hockey over the past 20 years.
STR: Let’s talk about your final season. Why the decision to retire mid-season?
Cvik: That was more of the league’s decision. As we got into negotiating my leaving the ice, it became clear as to why they wanted to do it. I still wanted to work the full season, but they were at the point, as Stephen Walkom and Terry Gregson said to me, “You got hired when somebody retired. We’re going to have five guys – now it’s six – leaving the ice this year. Three linesmen, three referees. We have a bunch of guys we need to get some more games with. You’re the guy we’re trying to get off the ice before anybody else, so you’re the guy that’s going to leave at the mid-season point.”
It’s just to free up 30-some odd games to split between two or three guys so they can get a determination as to who they’re going to hire in the summertime to take my position, which would’ve been done at the end of the season anyway.
[After my final game,] I got to do some mentoring with some of the young officials, both referees and linesmen, that came through Calgary. It made the transition a little better because I was still involved with the guys through the end of February. The Calgary Flames were really good about getting me a press pass so I could keep around the guys. I went to a lot of the games here in Calgary just to see the guys and go in the room and talk about the game and what was going on. I was gone but it wasn’t like I left.
STR: There’s a lot that the younger guys can learn from a guy like you who spent 29 years on the blueline. What kinds of advice did you have for them?
Cvik: On-ice, it was more trying to be ahead of the play, like reading the play.
When I got hired, we still had the one referee, two linesmen [system] so we were always taught as linesmen, you have a job to do as a linesman but you have to look at the game like a referee. When we went to the two referee system, that mentality kind of got lost. We talked about trying to find a way to bring that back in so that the linesmen have more vision in the game, they have more say in the game, especially with how fast these guys are doing things now. If we can have a linesman thinking along that way, they’re not just there to do faceoffs and call offsides and call icings, they’re out there as an integral part of the game almost as a secondary referee. Even the [situations] where a stick goes by the guy’s head and they throw their head back, we can have a set of eyes for the [linesman] to go over and tell the referee that the stick did not touch the guy, instead of saying that he didn’t get a good look at it and doesn’t know if he got hit with it or not.
With the younger guys, [I try to] find out what they like about the job what they don’t like about the job, how do they find the travel. Trying to get inside their heads and see what they like and what they don’t like about being a pro. For them to bounce things off of me – what did you do in this situation? How did you find this? How did you travel here? What did you like about this? Basically, just some conversation.
STR: I’m sure that’s a huge help for a guy like Ryan Gibbons, who made the same jump from the WHL right to the NHL like you did.
Cvik: He’s going through the same things that I did, but when I did it we didn’t have as much scrutiny.
John McCauley would phone me and say, “I’m sending you to LA for a week.” Back then, the only team in California was in LA. It was cheaper for them to fly you there to work a game Tuesday and one on Friday, than it was to fly you home [in between games]. So he’d say he was sending me to LA for a vacation.
You were lucky if there were two cameras following the game. If something happened in LA, we would have to get the videotape and FedEx it to Toronto. By the time it got to Toronto, it was already Tuesday or Wednesday and I’m sure something would’ve happened in Toronto, New York, Montreal, or Chicago that would’ve trumped whatever happened on the weekend, so they wouldn’t even get to what happened in LA probably for a week.
Now, something happens in LA and it’s 2:30 in the morning in Toronto, and somebody somewhere has already seen it. It’s all instantaneous now.
It’s good for me to relate to Ryan some of the old stories and then we can talk about some of the things that he’s going through, and he knows that I can relate to it. Laz [linesman Brad Lazarowich] and I, we did the jump right from the Western Hockey League to pro hockey. We didn’t have the Southern Professional League [SPHL], we didn’t have the East Coast League [ECHL], we didn’t have the American League. It was sink or swim.
STR: For your final game, you selected referees Wes McCauley and Kelly Sutherland and linesman Brian Murphy. What was it about those guys?
Cvik: Wes’s dad [Former NHL Director of Officiating John McCauley] was my boss when I got hired. I met Wes when he was nine or ten years old, running around Maple Leaf Gardens. His dad would come watch us work, and Wes would be running around in the dressing room. Wes and I have had a pretty good relationship since then. It was great to see him get on staff. He’s one of our top referees. I had to have Wes.
Kelly Sutherland, I taught at the Western School of Officiating. Kelly’s one of our good referees as well. I had to have Kelly because, of of all the kids that came through the school, Kelly would always ask the weirdest questions but there was always an underlying theme. They were always good questions.
Brian Murphy and I were hired the same year. I got hired full-time; Murph went into the 40-40 program [splitting time between the AHL and NHL, working 40 games in each]. When I was at training camp the year before I was hired full-time, Murph was there and when the NHL guys went into their [NHLOA] Association meetings, Brian and I would hop in a car with a supervisor and we’d go to Kitchener, Guelph — I can’t even remember where else we went — and we’d referee the exhibition games of the Ontario Hockey League. When Murph became our [NHLOA] president, I was in charge of the alumni. We’ve always had a really good relationship.
I was going through the list of guys. I had Laz for my 1500th game. I didn’t want to alienate any of the other guys from the Western League that I worked with by picking one over the other. Murph and I worked a few playoff series together and we always had fun. I have a ton of respect for Brian. He learned from a really good guy in Kevin Collins, and Kevin Collins was my first roommate ever. I thought, this is easy. Brian Murphy’s going to be my partner.
There were so many referees. If I could’ve had a different referee for every stoppage, I probably could’ve done it.
STR: Both Wes and Kelly are great communicators on the ice. You constantly hear them talking to players, letting them know what’s going on, warning about penalties. Wes, though, made some headlines for a particularly exciting goal review call this season.
Cvik: Oh yeah, that one in San Jose. “We got a goal!” He was in Calgary not a week after and I had to go down to the [officials’] room and that was the first thing I did. I opened the door and “We’ve got a good goal!”
STR: It was great to see. You go back a few years when the officials still wore their names on their backs. You got to know their personalities. You knew what to expect when you’d get a guy like Kerry Fraser, Paul Stewart, or Andy Van Hellemond. You got used to how they’d call the game. It was nice to see Wes bring a little personality, a little character, to his job.
Cvik: We all loved the names on the back. It was the recognition, maybe an ego thing with your name on the back of your jersey. We had them in the Western League. Then when you got to the NHL, you were watching Andy Van Hellemond, Bob Myers, Don Koharski, and Dan Marouelli and they all had their names on the back. You’re watching these guys and you’re like, “I want my name on the back of my jersey.”
So when we got it, it was good. Didn’t understand the reason why at the time when the league wanted to go to numbers. You hear their explanation, it makes sense, but still it was always nice to have the name on the jersey. You get the fan interaction
“Cvik, you’re brutal!” they’d yell. “Cvik, drop the puck!” Now they just yell, “Drop the puck!”
Even the players sill say, “Hey liney!” You can call me Mike; that’s my name.
STR: You’re a pretty recognizable guy. I’d have to imagine most knew you.
Cvik: I didn’t have too many of the guys call me liney, I can tell you that!
STR: So, back to your last game. Did you know you’d be dropping the puck for the opening faceoff?
Cvik: Probably deep down inside, you know it’s coming. It’s like when a guy’s working his first game and you say okay you’re going out first and everybody stands in the tunnel and lets him do a lap around by himself and everybody giggles.
We’re at center ice and we’re doing our thing for Stephane Provost and then Wes hands me the puck.
“No,” I said, “We’re not changing anything because it’s my last game.”
He goes, “You’re dropping the puck.” I said no. I wasn’t going to take it. He says it again, “You’re dropping the puck.”
I wasn’t going to stand there and argue, I’ll just drop the puck.
STR: Then after the final buzzer, you were named the third star of the game. Any idea that was coming?
Cvik: Yeah. It was funny. We’re sitting in the dressing room between the second and third period. Our phones are supposed to be off but I had mine on because I didn’t know if my daughter was going to come down. They were going to give her a ride on the Zamboni. The phone’s ringing, the phone’s ringing, and I’m grabbing something out of the cooler. By the time I get back to my phone, it’s gone to voicemail. So I flip it open – it’s [Sportsnet’s] Kelly Hrudey. I’m thinking, “Kelly, don’t you know I’m doing a game here? You’re doing the broadcast for crying out loud! Why are you phoning me between periods?”
We had about three minutes left [in intermission], so I couldn’t call him back then. I knew I’d see him at the end of the game since he was going to come down to the room. We go out, we do the third period, and at the end of the game, the players do their thing which was awesome.
I go to skate off into the tunnel and all three guys are blocking the tunnel and telling me, “You can’t go anywhere.”
“What are you talking about?” I asked them. “The game’s over. My foot’s killing me. I just want to get my skate off.”
Then I hear Beesley, the arena announcer: “We’re doing the three stars tonight in reverse order.”
The boys started giggling and telling me, “You’ve got to go for a skate. When they call your name, you’ve gotta go for a skate!”
So then they do the first star, second star, and they made me the third star. I go out and do my little lap. I don’t know how far I went. I think I went to the top of the circle and back.
Right after I got into the [officials’] room, a TV station here wanted to do a quick interview with me still in my stuff. By the time I got out there they had the [protective mat] ripped off already and I wasn’t taking my skates off so I just— on my skates, on the concrete – chk chk chk – around to the Zamboni entrance where they did the remote.
Kelly Hrudey walked by and he’s standing there, grinning. I just looked at him and told him not to go anywhere. “Yeah I was trying to call you,” he said. “I was going to ask you, if I name you a star, will you go for a skate?”
He told me when he didn’t get a hold of me, he got the info down to the timekeepers, who told the referees, who then told Murph, because they didn’t want me to leave the ice. I told Kelly I couldn’t believe he did that. “You deserved it,” he told me. “Twenty-nine years of what you did, that’s the least I could do for you.”
I said that he made my day, but that box way in the corner, everybody that’s in that box [Cvik’s friends and family], you really made their day.
STR: Sounds like a terrific job all around by the folks in Calgary for your final game.
Cvik: When Brian [Burke, Flames President of Hockey Operations] was in the room, we were sitting there talking. Of course, Brian Murphy knew Burkie really well from doing negotiations with our association. He just looked at Burkie and said, “The three of us, when we retire, we’re doing it in Calgary. After what we saw tonight, we’re retiring in Calgary.”
I’ve got nothing but great things to say about Ken King [Flames President and CEO], Brian Burke, [Flames GM] Brad Treliving, anybody associated with the Flames that had something to do with my final game. How they treated me, how they treated my family. It was completely amazing. It was well more than I should’ve had in any other building. It was fantastic. It was something I’ll never ever forget.
STR: So, with that ankle injury in your final game, how long until you’re back to game shape?
Cvik: I’ve been 10 days out of the boot. I guess there’s three ligaments in the ankle. I completely ripped one. When my doctor was looking at my MRI and giving me the go-ahead to take the cast off, he asked me what I wanted to do in my retirement. I told him I want to play hockey with my buddies. I want to play golf. I have a road bike. I like to zip around town and the trail to Banff with my daughter. He tells me that the ligament I completely tore is the one that stops my foot from going over itself on the outside. So if I’m not a jogger, I’m not going to go to the gym and do box jumps and all that nonsense, that there’s no sense doing surgery on it. Surgery is overkill for what I’m going to do. It’ll heal itself eventually. The only thing I’d have to go through is about four to six months of swelling.
He told me if I can deal with the swelling and get my skate on to go play hockey, then go play hockey. I can deal with this. Now I’m with my 55 and over group – I’m not 55 yet, but they said, “You know what, you can play with us.”
STR: Nobody’s going to say no to the 6-foot-9 guy.
Cvik: They like having me out there. I’m playing with one of Zdeno Chara’s sticks that he gave me. They can’t believe how big it is and they’re like, “How do we get around this guy?” They like all the long passes I make.
STR: No crashing the net for you? Had enough of faceoffs? Just staying back on defense in your retirement?
Cvik: Oh no, with me coming back, I told them I’d play defense. We have too many 49 and 50-year-olds that can still skate like 29-year-olds. I’m not going up there and chasing those guys around. I’ll just play defense and get in their way.
For a guy who’s 6-foot-9 and has spent 29 years trying to get out of the way, that doesn’t seem like too hard a task. And if guys can get around him, they’ll have to deal with his stick.
Our best to Mike in his retirement… or whenever he decides to slow down. Heal up, Honda!