Originally published in the Owen Sound Sun Times, August 10,
Theres more than one way for a boy from Grey-Bruce to make it to the National Hockey League.
Some make it as players, like Chris Neil of Flesherton and Nathan Perrott of Owen Sound. Andy Playter of Owen Sound is an athletic therapist in Ottawa, Scott McKay of Kincardine is an equipment manager in Toronto and Terry Koshan of Wiarton covers the league for the Toronto Sun.
And then theres Kevin Pollock, another Kincardine native whos preparing for his fifth season as an NHL referee.
Thats where I got my start, my base, Pollock, 35, said about his hometown and the Grey-Bruce region in a recent interview.
I never would have been this good if I didnt get my base from doing all the local hockey around that area.
Pollock, who now lives in Guelph with his wife and their daughter, played minor hockey in Kincardine and grew up with an appreciation for those who wore black and white vertical stripes on their jerseys.
I always was into officiating because my dad was heavily into officiating, said the son of Clarke Pollock, one of the areas best-known hockey referees.
My dad got me started at a young age, about 13 or I did a lot of minor hockey when I was still home in Kincardine. Id do the lines for my dad and other guys in the WOAA senior loop.
Because his father was given top local assignments, Pollock was able to learn from him, whether he was working alongside him or watching from the stands. Clarke Pollock believes thats a big reason for his sons success.
In your surroundings sometimes you can be intimidated, he said. If you have that ability to not be intimidated and to be yourself and call the game as you think it should be called, that makes a real good official.
Kevin has been able to do that.
After graduating from Kincardine District Secondary School, officiating went on the back burner while Pollock attended Georgian College in Barrie and played defence for the school hockey team.
He also joined the Hanover Barons for the Junior C playoffs in , then accepted a full-time roster spot in the season the Barons won the Ontario Hockey Association championship.
I had never won a championship and that was the only year I ever won, Pollock said, calling it the highlight of his playing career.
We were just blessed. We were very, very deep in talent. I always will remember the guys. It was just nice to win a championship.
The next year he joined the Lakeshore Winterhawks, a Senior B team based in Southampton, but he only played one season there because he had graduated from college with a diploma in electrical technology and was working in Toronto.
I had aspirations of trying to get back home and work for Ontario Hydro, he said. When I did come out of school, they had a hiring freeze at that time. That was probably a blessing in disguise because from there, thats when I got to the city.
Working as a technical sales representative with a flexible schedule, he found that he again had time to officiate hockey. He was hired by the OHA and had no shortage of assignments, especially after he began working in Kitchener.
From there I just kind of progressed up the ladder, said Pollock, who was hired as a linesman by the Ontario Hockey League in He also began working as a referee in the Colonial (now United) league and then moved up to the East Coast league in
After two seasons in the ECHL, he went back to the OHL as a referee. He performed well enough to earn a spot in the Memorial Cup tournament in Ottawa.
I guess I got on a hot streak and I got right to the Memorial Cup final, Pollock said. It was Calgary against Ottawa. It went to overtime and Ottawa won It was a good game.
Then he was hired by the NHL and assigned to the American league, where he spent one season. He worked his first NHL game in Nashville on March 28, The opposition was the New York Islanders, Pollocks favourite team as a kid.
Now that Im in this business, I have 30 teams that Im totally partial to, he said. I have no favourites now.
He was asked about the decision to quit his job and become a full-time official.
It wasnt really too difficult, he said. You could say I was born into hockey. Hockey was kind of my passion. To get the opportunity to do it and get paid for it was a real honour, a great feeling.
In the NHL, playoff assignments are awarded based on performance evaluations. Pollock immediately proved he belonged in the big leagues, advancing to the conference semifinals in each of his first four seasons.
You have to have a lot of luck on your side and avoid as much controversy as possible, he said, explaining his success. You just want to go out and referee a fair game and if you get recognized for it, thats like an icing on the cake.
Fair means not looking the other way, he stressed. Ottawa right-winger Chris Neil is one of the NHLs most penalized players, but hes also the brother of Dan Neil, one of Pollocks former teammates in Hanover.
Hes been real good to me on the ice, Pollock said of Chris Neil. I dont have any favourites and if he does something that breaks the rules, I have to enforce them. He accepts that. He has a role and I have a role.
But he always says hello and I always ask him how his brothers are doing in Flesherton. We have a nice rapport on the ice and I wish him all the best.
Other highlights in Pollocks career include last summers World Cup of Hockey and the Heritage Classic outdoor game between Montreal and Edmonton in
That was an interesting game, said Pollock, who suffered from frostbite and a brown toe afterward. It was when we started the game and it was when it ended. That was without the wind chill. But it was really neat, walking out and seeing the football stadium just filled with people.
It got so cold that the ice was breaking. Ice, after a while, gets brittle. It was chipping away and the biggest fear they had was getting the game done before the ice got unplayable. The other thing they were worried about was the puck hitting the glass and breaking it. But they got through it and it was really good.
He spent the lockout year of as a stay-at-home dad to his daughter Gabriella while his wife Karie went back to work as a police officer.
I understand how hard the work is now, experiencing it for the last 10 months, he said.
While off work hes kept in shape by running, biking, riding a stationary bike, lifting weights and skating.
He also returned to Kincardine last December to referee a charity hockey game. He worked again with his dad, for the first time in 16 years, but this time Kevin Pollock was the referee and Clarke Pollock was the linesman.
Thats the first time thats ever happened, he laughed.
I really was glad he did that, Clarke said of his sons return, noting the proceeds from the game went to the Kincardine hospital foundation. Kevin was born in the Kincardine hospital, so its just one way of being able to give back.
I really hope that as Kevin continues, that he still remembers the people from Owen Sound, Kincardine, Hanover and all around . . . and can do things like he did for the Kincardine hospital. Youll find out in life, as you go by, that the people that supported you when you were young still really want you to come around so they can see you.
* * *
NOTE: Pollock is still with the NHL. Ive had the privilege of interviewing him a few times and youd be hard-pressed to find a more decent person.
Were down to the final two teams and the final eight officials.
The NHL has announced the four referees and four linesmen officiating the Stanley Cup Final between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Nashville Predators.
The Cup Final referees are Wes McCauley, Brad Meier, Dan OHalloran, and Kevin Pollock. Linesmen are Scott Cherrey, Shaney Heyer, Brad Kovachik, and Brian Murphy.
Referees missing the cut were Jean Hebert, Dan ORourke, Chris Rooney, and Kelly Sutherland. ORourke and Sutherland both worked the Stanley Cup Final.
Also not moving on were linesmen Derek Amell, Jonny Murray, and Pierre Racicot- all three of whom worked last years Cup Final along with Matt MacPherson, who was making his first Conference Finals appearance.
Wes McCauley #4 5th Cup Final (). NHL debut in regular season games. Age 44, from Georgetown, Ontario. Drafted in by the Detroit Red Wings.
Brad Meier #34 1st Cup Final. NHL debut in 1, regular season games. Age 49, from Dayton, Ohio.
Dan OHalloran #13 10th Cup Final (, , ). NHL debut in 1, regular season games. Age 52, from Essex, Ontario. Last referee hired into the three-man system
Kevin Pollock #33 2nd Cup Final (). NHL debut in 1, regular season games. Age 46, from Kincardine, Ontario.
Scott Cherrey #50 1st Cup Final. 2 Conference Finals (, ). NHL debut in regular season games. Age 40, from Drayton, Ontario. Drafted in by the Washington Capitals.
Shane Heyer #55 6th Cup Final (, , ). Made Conference Finals in 10 of 11 NHL seasons. NHL debut in 1, regular season games as a linesman, plus 2 as a referee. Age 52, from Summerland, British Columbia.
Brad Kovachik #71 2nd Cup Final (). 6 Conference Finals; 5 straight (). NHL debut in 1, regular season games. Age 45, from Woodstock, Ontario.
Brian Murphy #93 9th Cup Final. (, , , , , , , ). NHL debut in 1, regular season games as a linesman, plus 88 as a referee. Age 51, from Dover, New Hampshire.