By Blake Sebring, Fort Wayne News-Sentinel. Originally posted at news-sentinel.com:
After working his way up through the ECHL and the Colonial Hockey League, defenseman Wes McCauley thought his career was taking off when he joined the 1995-95 Fort Wayne Komets. It just took a different path.
After playing infrequently and getting sent down to the Colonial Hockey League a couple times, McCauley wasn’t too surprised when Komets coach Dave Farrish asked or a talk with the defensemen after eight games in Fort Wayne. McCauley had scored one goal in eight games as a Komet.
“I had played that weekend and everything seemed to be going in the right direction, but after practice there was a message on my machine to come see him in his office,” McCauley said. “I go over and we kind of chit chat about this and that, and we were talking about where I stand and he said, `There’s a lot of scouts in the crowd, and your name got brought up.’
“That’s intriguing, McCauley said.
“We were thinking with the NHL going to a two-referee system, and your bloodlines,” Farrish said, “and we think that you would make a great referee.”
That’s somewhat funny now because McCauley, 44, is now one of the NHL’s best referees. He’s worked the last four Stanley Cup Finals and last summer’s World Cup. There are probably Olympics and NHL All-Star Games in his future. During the biggest games, the NHL wants McCauley blowing the whistle.
He comes by it naturally because wearing stripes is skin-deep in McCauley’s family. His father, John, who died at age 44 in 1989, was a referee and the NHL’s director of officiating for 10 years; his uncle, Ron Finn, was an NHL referee until 2000; and his cousin, Sean, was a linesman in the American Hockey League, the International Hockey League and ECHL.
“His uncanny `feel’ for the game (almost a lost art) allowed for the expected playoff intensity to flourish in each game he called,” former NHL referee Kerry Fraser wrote of McCauley on TSN.ca. “Most importantly, McCauley demonstrated the courage and good judgment to make the tough call at any point in the game regardless of the score or time. He did not put his whistle away!”
Everyone expected Wes McCauley to become an official, but that wasn’t his first goal. He wanted to be a player, was a captain at Michigan State and then became a Detroit Red Wings’ eighth-round draft pick in 1990. After leaving the Komets and completing the season with Muskegon in the Colonial Hockey League, McCauley played for one year in Italy, but that only delayed the inevitable.
He kept running into veteran supervisors who knew his dad or his uncle, and knew him from his younger days. They always talked about the need for more former players to pick up a whistle.
“Maybe it kind of came along at the right time,” McCauley said.
That started his climb through the minors as a linesman and then a referee. Learning from veterans along the way, McCauley called ECHL, IHL and AHL finals games before jumping to the NHL in 2003. He became a full-time NHL referee in 2005.
His playing experience helped because he knew some of the players because he competed against them either in college or the minors. He wasn’t a total unknown, he knew how to communicate with players and coaches and he had that feel for the game.
“The one thing I know is they all want to win,” McCauley said. “They are competitive and the official is the guy who’s job is to keep it fair and safe and they look at us as keeping them from winning or losing. I also have a little empathy for the guys who are holding their sticks a little too tight. I get it.”
He’s also very good at leaving what happens on the ice inside the glass. There’s always the next game to move on to. There are 33 referees and 33 linesmen in the NHL, and they work 73 games every season, always pushing themselves to compete so they can earn playoff berths as well and maybe earn a spot in the next round. Their job is to serve the game, but they also want to represent the group in the Stanley Cup Finals.
“If there’s a Game 7, you want to be one of the four men stepping on the ice to do that game,” McCauley said. “That would be the ultimate.”
He’s called the games for 16 seasons now, easily surpassing his father’s mark of 442 games. Now he’s over 800 games.
“I pinch myself that I still get to skate around,” McCauley said. “Every year there’s a new generation of kids coming in, and it’s amazing how skill and how good the game is because they are getting better and better every year. It’s neat because I’m a pretty lucky guy. I do my best to try and stay out of the highlights.”
And it’s all because of Dave Farrish and Fort Wayne. Now Farrish is an assistant coach with Colorado, and occasionally he’ll yell at McCauley from the Avalanche bench to dispute a call.
“It’s your fault!” McCauley yells back. “We always end up chuckling about it.”
Originally posted at news-sentinel.com.