We are grateful to Lloyd Freeberg for sharing this story with us. Lloyd is on our Newsletter list and replied to one of our emails shortly after reading Rick Gethin’s terrific article on Off-Ice officials.
On December 26th, my son Logan and I headed East from California to spend a week visiting my daughter, Jennifer and her family who had recently moved to Columbus, Ohio, home of the Blue Jackets. Having worked for the NHL for 17 years as an off-ice official assigned to the Anaheim Ducks, I was looking forward to meeting my colleagues at Nationwide Arena. Our crew chief, Steve Bashe, had let his Columbus counterpart, Don Supenak, know I was coming, and would be attending the game against Detroit on the 28th.
Don was kind enough to contact me prior to my attendance with specific instructions on where to meet before the game, and I arrived as scheduled armed with a hockey care package of our home team memorabilia consisting of pucks, pins, and books. This is traditionally exchanged for like items from the team being visited as an expression of camaraderie between those who perform important game tasks, though in relative obscurity. Meeting Don was a real pleasure having read about him and his crew in a thoroughly enjoyable and informative article appearing recently in The Hockey Writers. True to his status as Crew Chief, Don took me on a detailed behind-the-scenes tour of the beautiful Nationwide Arena. What was most striking was the highly organized and professional operation of the Arena support personnel. From ushers to ticket-takers, Zamboni operators to the ice cleaners during the breaks, all were friendly and efficient in performing their work so necessary for the “big show” to go off without a hitch.
Of great interest, of course, was meeting my counterparts on the rest of the off-ice crew. And what a great group they are! Clearly motivated, professional, and interested in their work, each of them took time to explain how they performed their respective duties. This included a trip out on the ice to the penalty boxes, places I’ve done time in at our home rink, The Honda Center, usually in company with young men carrying long sticks and having short tempers!
Certainly, there were some differences in how they did their duties compared to our crew, but the purpose was the same: to do our jobs in a thorough and accurate manner for the benefit of the fans and the league.
As I watched the game that night, I realized that each of the off-ice crew members throughout the league served with great pride at being an integral part of the National Hockey League. And it was apparent that because each Blue Jacket crew member was performing at an optimal level, the fans were obviously having a fantastic time. So well so that at the end of the game, the crowd went wild I believe in cheering each and every member of the crew. Every fan was standing and applauding for a full 5 minutes a job well done by Don and his entire crew, clearly recognizing their professionalism. Finally, I thought, our importance to the game has been acknowledged. Oh, did I mention that the Red Wings lost in overtime?
Meeting Don and his crew was a real thrill: experienced professionals from a variety of careers and backgrounds, all sharing a love of the “coolest game on earth”. My thanks to the entire crew for their hospitality and congeniality, and I hope to make a return visit soon to the Nationwide Arena. And I’m betting when I do, it’ll be with a lot more eagerness to do so than the Wings will have on their next visit.