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Mark Masters

SPORTSCENTRE Reporter

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Scott Driscoll hopes his distinguished 28-year career as a National Hockey League linesman isn't over just yet.

His farewell season was set up so that he'd finish with 1,850 regular-season games. When the league hit pause on March 11 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Driscoll still had three to go.

Driscoll's last outing was in Toronto on March 10, when the native of tiny Seaforth, Ont. was honoured with a video tribute in the first period and received congratulatory handshakes from Leafs players after their win.

"That was really cool and surreal and right now that's holding up as maybe my last game ever," Driscoll said.

It was a nice send-off, but not the career capper Driscoll had envisioned. That would've been at Madison Square Garden on March 18.

"My favourite building in the league is New York. I just love the city and I had 82 people coming to that game. I'm hopeful that I have at least one more to go."

Driscoll spoke to TSN by phone to go through some of his career highlights.

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'Cub' is born 

Driscoll is an imposing figure on the ice, standing 6-foot-4 and 255 pounds, but his nickname doesn't reflect that.

"In my first training camp for NHL officials I roomed with [linesman] Ron Asselstine and his nickname was, 'The Bear,' and just a day and a half into training Rob Shick had already named me 'Cub,' and that name has stuck. Twenty-eight years later I’m still, 'Cub' or 'Cubby.'"

Driscoll wears No. 68, his birth year, but back when he broke into the league the officials still had their name on the back of their sweaters. In his first game, Driscoll's crew mates decided to pull a prank on the rookie.

"While I was stretching they took my jersey out, unfolded and taped my nickname, 'Cub,' on the back," Driscoll recalled with a chuckle. "They folded it back up and put it in my bag and I had no idea. I skated on the ice and people were laughing, trainers were laughing, but it sure made me feel at ease and I laughed. It was a great moment."

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Ferraro leads the welcoming committee

Driscoll's NHL debut came on Oct. 10, 1992 with the Islanders taking on the Bruins.

"One thing I remember is Ray Ferraro played and he was kind of abusing me, because I called a five-minute major on Pat Flatley halfway through the second period for high sticking. The crew got together and the ref, Rob Shick, didn't see it. Leon Stickle was the other linesman and he's just an amazing man and helped me keep the nerves away. So, I called the five-minute major.

"Ferraro was chirping me the rest of the night. For the rest of the game he kept calling me, 'Chubby.' He was skating around going, 'Nice call, Chubby! Way to be a hero, Chubby!' And I'm like, 'What the f--k? It's my first game and I'm just doing my job. Why are you being a little rat?'"

One week later, Driscoll was doing another Islanders game.

"I was working with a senior lineman in Gord Broseker and he was like, 'How's everything going?' And I'm like, 'Pretty good.' He goes, 'Any difficulties the first week?' And I'm like, 'Not really. Well, there was one. I made the right call and Ferraro was skating around the rest of the night calling me, 'Chubby' and I didn't like that.' And he goes, 'Oh, we'll fix that tonight.'

"So, really early on in the game, Gord was getting ready for the faceoff and I was delivering the puck to him and he puts his hand up and says, 'Hey, stop.' And he looks at Ray and says, 'Ray, I understand you're calling my friend here, Chubby. You call him Chubby again tonight and he's going to pick you up and body slam you over the boards, got it?' And Ray had this 'Oh s--t' look on his face and the rest of the night he was picking up the puck and handing it to me and apologizing."

Truth is, Driscoll actually got a kick out of the acid-tongued Ferraro when the abuse wasn't directed at him. 

"He was pretty entertaining to have on the ice ... He always seemed to have something smart to say."

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The whiniest team

Ferraro was the first of many players to give Driscoll a hard time. It's just the nature of the business.

"I was working a game between Vancouver and San Jose this season and San Jose was just whining a lot. I stopped in front of the bench and I said to [Canucks coach] Travis Green, who I used to battle with, I said, 'Hey Travis, that team down there, they'd give the 2003-04 Toronto Maple Leafs a run for their money for being the whiniest team,' and the players on the bench were laughing and going, 'Really?' And I was like, 'Oh yeah.' And they were like, 'How was Travis?' And I was like, 'He was about 10th.' They were like, 'Really?' And I'm like, 'Oh yeah, you got [Tie] Domi, you got [Darcy] Tucker, you got [Shayne] Corson, you got [Gary] Roberts, you got Mats Sundin, and I went down the whole list. This was during the game and Travis was giving a big belly laugh."

After that game, Driscoll's last in Vancouver, Green gave him a nice bottle of wine.

There are always harsh words exchanged in the heat of battle, but there's usually a mutual respect as well.

"A guy I battled with forever, but that's how he was on the ice, was Shayne Corson," Driscoll said. "And I went to a charity event last year, it was like a Habitat for Humanity type thing over in Kitchener-Waterloo, and there were a lot of different ex-NHLers there and the one person who came up to me and gave me a big hug was Corson. And you just don't think that’s going to happen.

"Over time you learn that it's not personal. Even a guy like Pat Quinn, he used to yell at officials, but he's not yelling at you personally."

Driscoll worked one NHL All-Star Game, 2004 in Minnesota, where Quinn coached the Eastern Conference team. Driscoll brought his son Ryan, then eight, to the event. Quinn invited Ryan to stand on the bench with him during the skills competition. Quinn then signed a picture of the pair and sent it to Driscoll. That picture still hangs in Ryan's room.

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A special relationship with Spezza

The guy Driscoll liked talking to the most was Jason Spezza.

"He's such a special, cordial young man. We had a great rapport."

Back in 2007, Driscoll worked the Stanley Cup Finals and brought his family to a game in Ottawa.

"My then seven-year-old, Devon, had a Jason Spezza shirt and that ended up being the one T-shirt that every time I came home from a road trip and did the laundry it was always dirty and I told Jason that. He kind of giggled and then, without me asking, he signed a stick and sent it down to my son. Since then he'd always ask how my son Devon is doing. Devon's now officiating. …Jason always, always asked how Devon was doing and asked about my family. When I told him Devon was officiating he actually sent a stick down that night and it was signed, 'To Devon, there's no doubt you'll be the best referee in the Driscoll family.'"

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After his last game in Toronto, Driscoll gave Spezza a gift.

"I wear a jersey every period and I signed my jersey from the first period to him, because he's just been so amazing. My second last game with Toronto I told Jason, 'Okay, we'll meet at centre ice after my last game and swap jerseys,' and he was, 'Like in soccer?! We're going to swap jerseys?' And I was like, 'Yeah.' And he was like, 'I can't do that, I don't have the body for that.' And I go, 'Neither do I,' and he's like, 'Yeah, but you're retiring.'"

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The Carcillo incident

Driscoll was working Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals in 2014 between New York and Montreal when the normally anonymous linesman was thrust into the spotlight.

Early in the first period, Montreal's Brandon Prust levelled Derek Stepan with a late, high hit, breaking his jaw. That play went unpenalized on the ice, but eventually led to a two-game suspension. So, the emotions, already high in a playoff game, were amplified. A few minutes later, New York's Daniel Carcillo took a run at Prust and was whistled for charging. Derek Dorsett and Prust then dropped their gloves.

"When Dorsett and Carcillo came on the ice at the same time as Prust all four of us had a heightened awareness," Driscoll said of the officiating crew. "And after Carcillo hit Prust and referee] Kevin Pollock had his arm in the air for a delayed penalty, I was already in motion to intercept Carcillo before the whistle went. Carcillo wanted to get into the fray."

Driscoll got a hold of Carcillo in an attempt to escort him to the penalty box. Carcillo threw an elbow.

"My mandate is to get him to the penalty box as quickly as possible and then return to assist my linesman partner, Steve Miller, because he can't break up the fight alone. As soon as Dan struck me he knew he had crossed the line. He basically went limp as I escorted him to the penalty box. I managed to lower my physicality too, as it would have been very easy to manhandle him into the penalty box."

Carcillo received an automatic 10-game suspension for abuse of an official.

"It's not a highlight, but definitely ranks as one of the most memorable events of my life, getting hit by Carcillo, because it took everything I had not to react in an adverse way and take my frustrations out on him."

In the aftermath of the incident, Rangers coach Alain Vigneault suggested Driscoll exacerbated the situation by being so aggressive in grabbing Carcillo.

"Knowing Alain, all he was doing was taking the heat off Carcillo, because he never once after that said anything to me. There was a hearing and the Rangers were present and Glen Sather exonerated me and had no excuse for Carcillo. It was just the Players' Association wanted to appeal it to lower his suspension and it is what it is. I mean, at the meeting Dan apologized to me and there was never any ill will after that. It was something that happened in the game and was left on the ice."

The suspension was eventually reduced to six games allowing Carcillo to play in the Stanley Cup Finals.

"I worked the Finals that year too and the Rangers played, so we got past that point and it was never mentioned again."

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Keeping coaches calm

Sometimes Driscoll played peacemaker when a dispute broke out between coaches. That was the case in a recent game between Montreal and Columbus. Late in the first period, Canadiens forward Andrew Shaw hit Blue Jackets defenceman Adam McQuaid, who was injured on the play. Shaw got two minutes for interference.

"John Tortorella wanted a major. Claude [Julien] wanted no penalty and said McQuaid had embellished it. Torts heard and he went nuts. Claude called me over at the first commercial time out of the second period and told me to tell Torts he apologizes for his comments. So I did.

“The next commercial timeout Torts called me over and tells me to tell Claude that it's not him he has to apologize to, it's his injured player. So I did. The next time out, Claude calls me over to tell me to tell Torts he will come down personally after the game. The next period Torts calls me over and says, 'Tell Claude we all say things we regret.' He had the biggest s--t-eating grin on his face. I told Claude and they both looked at each other and gave a little nod."

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The biggest stages

Driscoll pretty much did it all during his career. By 1996 he was already on the international stage working at the World Cup. Driscoll made his NHL playoff debut later that season, but it took another eight years before he was ready for the biggest stage of all: the Stanley Cup Finals.

"To reach the pinnacle is a great feeling and you never forget those," he said.

Driscoll also got the nod to work the Finals in 2007 and, as previously noted, 2014.

I asked Driscoll what makes a good linesman.

"Being in the right place at the right time and knowing what to look at," he said. "When we have a younger official, who was a player and makes the transition, they get very puck-focused and the thing you have to do as a linesman is almost see the play on the periphery. When you think about it, there's usually two guys maybe three, battling for the puck, so there's seven other guys out there doing stuff and quite often that's where things get missed."

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Humble roots

How did Driscoll get into officiating?

"I was 12 years-old and a lady, who was the local assigner for officiating, came to myself and a couple of my friends and asked if we'd be interested in getting into officiating. It was a rural town and we didn't have a lot of young officials."

That woman was Joyce McClure, who passed away a couple years ago, but not before Driscoll sent her a signed sweater.

It was a few years later when Driscoll was playing Junior B hockey with St. Mary's that he realized officiating might be more than just a fun way to make a little extra cash.

"I would see guys out there working our games wearing OHL pants and I found myself actually watching them during our games and looking at their nuances," he said.

Driscoll, a stay-at-home defenceman, continued to pursue his playing career, which took him to Wilfrid Laurier University. In 1990, Laurier lost in the national championship game, but Driscoll earned a look.

"I was given a tryout with Vancouver in 1990. When I had that opportunity I knew I would never make it to the NHL, but it made me more marketable as an official."

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Fighting Odjick at Canucks camp

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"I wasn't a pugilist by any stretch of the imagination, but at training camp I ended up fighting Gino Odjick so [pause] that's why I’m a linesman. Pretty tough character.

"His centre was Jack Capuano's brother, Dave, and he was a bit of a mouth piece, to say the least. I took liberties with him at the end of a shift and I forgot that Gino was his winger. I turned to look and all the sudden Gino was coming at me and the gloves were off and I was like, 'Oh s--t.'

"I held my own. I definitely didn't get destroyed. I hadn't fought in at least two years of playing university hockey. I definitely wasn't on the offensive. I was on the defensive. It is what it is. I still picked up my gloves and continued to play. It's not like I was carried off the ice."

Only a couple years later, Driscoll was back on the ice with Odjick, but this time wearing stripes.

"My first game in Vancouver, Gino comes over and said, 'Hi,' and we went out drinking after the game," Driscoll said. "This past season, my last game in Vancouver, Gino came down to the room and we took a picture together."

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Man cave needs a makeover

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"I have collected more memorabilia in the last six weeks than I have in the last 28 years and it's from players that have sent down sticks, signed jerseys for me and teams that have had their jerseys made up with my name and number. It’s been pretty cool. It does mean a lot."

Brendan Shanahan presented Driscoll with a Leafs sweater with his name on it signed by some current players and Darryl Sittler, who was his favourite player growing up. It was a No. 27 sweater, Sittler's number.

Did any gift catch Driscoll off guard?

"The one that totally caught me by surprise was from [Golden Knights' president] George McPhee, who popped down in Vegas with a gold puck to present to me and that kind of floored me." 

McPhee is from Guelph where Driscoll and his family have lived since he got the NHL gig. The league requires its officials to live within 100 miles of a major airport, which necessitated the move.

"The joke is I’m going to have to redo the man cave, because at my house there actually isn't that much memorabilia. I'm actually a passionate World War II historian, so there's more World War II stuff in my house."

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Military man

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Driscoll's interest in the Second World War was sparked by a family connection.

"My uncle, a really quiet, unassuming, kind man from my hometown of Seaforth, landed on the beach on D-Day. He was in the Canadian Army and one of the 15,000 men that went ashore on D-Day and I didn't find that out until 20 years ago. I had always been interested in it, but that sparked it."

Driscoll attended the Medal of Honor Society's Gala held in Tampa Bay last October. The Medal of Honor is the highest award for an individual serving in the United States Armed Services. It's given for valor in action against an enemy force.

An annual convention began several years ago to bring together surviving recipients for a time of reflection and commiseration. The 46 attending Medal of Honor recipients were honoured on the ice before the Penguins-Lightning game on Oct 23. Driscoll worked the game and was able to attend the gala a couple nights later.

"The chance to meet one of the two surviving Medal of Honor recipients, Woody Williams, at that event was incredible."

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What's next?

Driscoll has reached out to some Ontario university teams about assistant coaching positions. He'd also be interested in getting involved on the development side with amateur officials in Ontario.

"My dream job would be to do World War II tours over in Normandy ... that would be my dream job, run two or three small trips a year to Normandy and pass on the knowledge I've accrued in the last 20 years."

At some point, Driscoll wants to bring Tortorella, whose son is a U.S. Army Ranger, to Normandy.

You can bet Driscoll will be back in Europe sooner than later.

"It was surreal to be over there this past year for the 75th anniversary of D-Day and seeing the ceremonies. People come up and when they find out your Canadian, they thank you and it's a real great feeling. It's something you can't describe."​