Linesman Kevin Collins is a Hall-of-Famer. For a guy who joined the NHL as a fall-back job, that’s not too shabby.
When he was passed over for a probations job, Collins signed on with the National Hockey League. After twenty-eight years in stripes – a span that included 1,964 regular season and 296 playoff games – it looks like Collins made the right call.
“This truly is the pinnacle of my officiating career,” Collins said in June, when the Hall of Fame class was announced, adding that the honor left him “totally speechless and surprised.”
“It’s overwhelmingly outstanding. I never expected it, and I wasn’t looking for it. I just went to work every day and did my job and did it the best I could. That’s all that matters. That was the way I was brought up.”
Collins will be inducted alongside NHL winger Scott Young, NHL coach Ron Wilson, longtime Boston University coach Jack Parker, and US Women’s Olympic coach Ben Smith.
Collins is the second NHL official to be enshrined in the Hall, joining referee Bill Chadwick who was inducted in 1974. Hal Trumble, a former collegiate and international official, is also in the Hall of Fame, though he was largely inducted for his work as executive director of what would become USA Hockey.
“I’m proud to be in such an elite group. I’m especially thrilled to join NHL referee Bill Chadwick [in the Hall of Fame]. He was a true pioneer in officiating, introducing the hand signals that all referees in the world use today. I’m honored to be in with him.”
Collins spent 28 years in stripes in the NHL (1977-2005), all of them without a helmet. The Massachusetts native handled 1,964 regular season games and 296 playoff games, with 32 games worked in 12 Stanley Cup Finals. Internationally, Collins suited up for the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, the 1996 World Cup of Hockey, and four Canada Cups. He also officiated two All-Star Games (1988 in St. Louis and 1993 in Montreal).
“When I think of Kevin, I think of words like honest, hard working, dedicated to the game, integrity, love of the game, courage, inner strength,” said NHL referee Tom Kowal, upon Collins’ 2008 induction into the Massachusetts Hockey Hall of Fame . “These are all the traits that Kevin exhibited during his 28 years on the ice working for the National Hockey League and still does to this day.”
The veteran linesman has seen his share of big moments.
He was there, alongside fellow linesman Ray Scapinello, for Game 7 of the 1994 Final between the New York Rangers and the Vancouver Canucks. He blew the whistle on a late icing that set up one final faceoff in the Rangers’ end with mere seconds on the clock.
“The biggest, greatest thing ever, seventh game of the Stanley Cup Final, Rangers, Vancouver, Madison Square Garden,” said Collins. “Nothing in my career is bigger than that, the magnitude of a seventh game, the aura, to have it in that city … I don’t think there’s a bigger sports city in North America than New York.”
He was there in 1993, when Toronto’s Doug Gilmour was clipped by Wayne Gretzky’s stick in overtime of Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals, unable to help referee Kerry Fraser with the call
He was on the Boston Garden ice in the ‘80s, battling his way through a bench-clearing brawl between the Bruins and Quebec Nordiques.
“What a mess,” Collins recalled. “It could have been an awful situation. Well, I guess it was an awful situation, but at the time you don’t think of it that way. But here we are, we’ve got skates on and we’re rolling down these steps breaking this thing up. We’re lucky nobody got seriously hurt or cut open. It was quite an experience.”
It only seems fitting that a man once pursuing a career in law enforcement would find himself keeping the peace on the ice.
Collins was well-known for jumping in to break up a fight, often to the chagrin of the fans looking to see a scrap. In doing so, he often found himself on the receiving end of a punch.
“Hey, [former NHL linesman and Hockey Hall-of-Famer] John D’Amico would jump into fights and just pull everyone away,” Collins said. “I said, ‘Well, if that’s how you do it, that’s the way I’m doing it.’ ”
From USA Hockey:
“Known for his integrity, athleticism and strong skating ability, Collins was a pioneer in the development of officiating as a whole.”
“Beyond his service as an on-ice official, Collins has also volunteered countless hours to amateur hockey in Massachusetts, serving as a youth hockey coach and director while also coordinating free officiating workshops throughout New England.”
“Kevin’s on-ice career was marked by excellence, dedication and passion for the game,” said NHL Director of Officiating Stephen Walkom after Collins’ retirement.
Collins was also the first linesman to act as President of the NHL Officials’ Association (NHLOA). After his retirement, Collins remained with the NHL as an Officiating Manager through 2013.
From the NHLOA:
Collins was also a pioneer in the development of officiating as a whole.
In 1974, he founded the Western New England School of Officiating which, at the time, was the only officiating school conducted in the U.S. and provided the foundation for hundreds of budding professional officials.
In 1983, Collins helped USA Hockey create its Officiating Summer Development Camp program and its officiating manual series, both of which remain in use and serve as core components of USA Hockey’s Officiating Development Program.
Collins also taught at numerous USA Hockey officiating camps and seminars. Over the years, he also volunteered countless hours to the Massachusetts amateur hockey program.
“Kevin was one of those guys that was so helpful to a young ref,” former NHL referee Don VanMassenhoven told NHL.com. “He would give you tips. He would calm you down. He would help you in the intermissions by talking to you about things to watch. He just treated you like an equal. If you got a game with Kevin, it was exciting.”
Collins once said that it was his father who inspired him to be the best.
“One of the things he always said was whatever you choose to do in life, it doesn’t matter. It’s how you do it,” said Collins. “If you are best at it, you’ll be successful. It doesn’t matter if you want to be a menial worker or whatever, but just be the best.”
Congratulations to Kevin Collins on an amazing career and a well-deserved spot in the USA Hockey Hall of Fame.