Local man’s ice dreams come true as referee

  • By Rich Myhre Herald Writer
  • Tuesday, September 22, 2009 10:17am
  • SportsSports

LAKE STEVENS — As a boy growing up in Canada, Vaughan Rody dreamed of playing in the National Hockey League.

Alas, he was long on desire, but short on talent, and his playing career ended at age 17. He figured his dream of being in the NHL was over … or was it?

Rody’s love of hockey led him to officiating and renewed his goal of reaching the NHL. He spent 13 years working his way up, including 10 seasons in the Western Hockey League, before finally being promoted to the NHL as a linesman in 1999.

“I’m a very lucky guy,” said the 40-year-old Rody, who lives near Lake Stevens. “There are a lot of guys who are probably just as good officials as me coming up through the ranks, and they’re waiting for a phone call that might never come. Well, my phone call came.”

There have already been many highlights in Rody’s hockey career, and tonight he’ll add one more. In what might be his first “home” game as an official, he will be on the ice at Everett’s Comcast Arena for a preseason match between the Phoenix Coyotes and the Tampa Bay Lightning.

It is a game Rody requested to work. His wife Lisa, a Monroe native, and sons Bryson, 9, and Owen, 7, are expected to be on hand.

Rody’s bid to reach the NHL became serious in 1989 when he moved from his native Winnipeg, Manitoba, to the Seattle area to begin working in the WHL. Because the league paid sparingly, he also took a job at Boeing. During the season he would leave work in the afternoon and drive to Portland, Spokane or wherever his game was scheduled. He would then drive back late at night and be on the job at Boeing early the next morning.

“It was a difficult road for me, but you do what you have to do,” he said. “You chase your dream.”

That dream finally came true one memorable afternoon in the summer of 1999 when an NHL representative called, offering a job.

Rody kept his composure until the call ended, “and then I hung up and started to cry. It was overwhelming. I get emotional talking about it even now. I’ve been married and been there for the births of my two children, and (that phone call) still ranks as one of the top four moments in my life.”

He is one of two NHL officials from Washington (the other lives in Spokane). During the season he is on the road about 15 days a month, with a typical road trip being six games in nine days, after which he returns home for five to seven days “to recharge,” he said.

He is contracted for 75 games a season, but usually works around 70 or about 10-13 a month.

And as much as he loves his job, the obvious downside is the time it takes him away from his family.

“When I’m eight days into a road trip in the middle of February,” he said, “and I’ve missed somebody’s Valentine’s Day concert, and they phone me and I’m somewhere in a hotel room by myself, those are the days I don’t like it very much.”

His wife, Lisa, “has to take on a lot of hats when dad’s gone,” he said, adding, “This was a dream we both chased together. And quite frankly, I wouldn’t have been able to do it without her.”

As one of two linesmen for an NHL game, Rody’s job is “to take care of the flow of the game.” The two referees call most penalties, while the linesmen focus on infractions like icing and offside, plus occasional major penalties.

And icing and offside calls, which generally seem obvious from the stands or from in front of a TV, are often much more difficult for the officials on the ice.

“Things are happening bang-bang,” Rody explained. “There are bodies in front of you that are 200-plus pounds, and they’re skating at 35 and 40 miles per hour. And if you’re not fast on your feet, if you’re not thinking about the game, and if you sleep for one second, then you’re not in position and you miss that call.

“And if you blow your whistle and it’s not offsides, you’re going to hear about it from the bench, you’re going to hear about it from the fans, and quite frankly when you get home and your computer lights up that next morning you’re going to hear about it from your boss. There’s accountability, and you don’t want those phone calls coming very often, that’s for sure.”

As a linesman, Rody is also responsible for breaking up fights. And although many hockey fans love a good melee, there is nothing entertaining or enjoyable about being an on-ice peacemaker. Particularly since most of the league’s burly enforcers are decidedly bigger than the 5-foot-10½, 170-pound Rody.

“You have to get their attention in a hurry,” he said. “And you have to be strong enough to really grab onto them and let them know that they have to stop now. It’s a volatile situation, it really is. And where you really start to be concerned is when there’s a hit that’s maybe gone uncalled, so now there’s (the likelihood of) retribution. It gets a little scary.

“That’s a frightening aspect of this job, no question about it,” he said.

Like officials in every sport, Rody seeks perfection. Every night he does his best, and yet every night he knows he falls short.

“You just can’t have a perfect game,” he acknowledged. “So afterward you reflect on how you did and you think about what you can do a little bit better. Because there’s always something you could’ve handled differently to make the game better.”

Although Rody still has other dreams in hockey — in particular, he yearns to work a Stanley Cup final — he continues to live his bigger dream each night he takes the ice.

“Every day is fortunate,” he said with a smile. “And when I put my jersey on before every game, quite frankly, I wouldn’t trade places with anybody. I think I have the greatest job in the world.”

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