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NHL’s best referee: Wes McCauley goes by his own book

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Wes McCauley keeps his good calls close and his bad calls closer.

Any time the veteran NHL referee is feeling too good or gets down on himself, he breaks out a binder full of his missed calls and looks through it.

”It’s a humbling book,” McCauley said. ”Trust me, I’ve made a lot of mistakes. There’s times you wish you could saw your arm off.”

McCauley’s arms have signaled countless penalties, goals and no-goals since his NHL career began in 2003. Over the past 15 years, he has developed a reputation as not only the most animated referee in the game but the best in hockey based on his consistency, rapport with players and coaches and a demeanor that’s equal parts entertaining and professional.

In an NHLPA poll last spring, almost half of players chose McCauley as the league’s best referee, honoring a man in stripes who’s far more used to getting barked at than complimented.

”I don’t think I’m that good,” McCauley told The Associated Press. ”My job’s just to officiate hockey games and to do the best I can and to move on to the next game and really to stay out of the highlights.”

McCauley has his own highlight reels because he enjoys hamming it up when he makes announcements. When he reaches to his right hip to turn on the microphone, it’s must-see entertainment.

His flair for the dramatic once sent former Rangers coach Alain Vigneault into a laughing fit on the bench, and it has been the subject of mocking from veteran officials for just how demonstrative he can be when whistling a penalty or waving off a goal. McCauley knows he’s more exuberant than he has to be, but that’s part of the fun for him and players.

”He’s real,” Avalanche forward Nathan MacKinnon said. ”He’s obviously an animated guy and definitely calls a good game.”

McCauley earned the votes of 47.8 percent of players as the NHL’s best referee, well ahead of Kelly Sutherland (17.7 percent), Tim Peel (4.4 percent), Dan O’Halloran (2.7 percent) and Trevor Hanson (2.7 percent). The 46-year-old from Georgetown, Ontario, is the most popular and respected ref because he gets it right more often than not, apologizes when he doesn’t and knows how to explain his calls to players and coaches.

”Consistency. You kind of know what you’re getting with him,” Rangers forward Chris Kreider said. ”In any sport when you talk about refereeing, if a ref isn’t very visible and prevalent and the game is decided by the players ultimately, then that’s a good ref and that’s Wes.”

McCauley gets that. He played four seasons at Michigan State from 1989-93, had a cup of coffee in the minors and figures his relationships with players from that era bought him the benefit of the doubt, and some of that still exists.

”He’s in charge out there, and there’s really not a lot of gray area,” said Capitals coach Todd Reirden, who went to Bowling Green and played against McCauley in college. ”He stands his line and he lets the players play, but he also has a great pulse of what’s going on and I think that’s from his experiences of playing the game at a collegiate level and also some at a pro level. He relates really well with the players and with the coaches.”

McCauley vividly remembers botching a call in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final when he didn’t see that Washington’s Chandler Stephenson, not Vegas defenseman Deryk Engelland, tripped teammate Nicklas Backstrom and called a penalty. As with many other calls, he hoped it wouldn’t directly affect the result and apologized to Engelland later.

That’s a common theme during McCauley’s career.

”I still remember one time he made a bad call and he found me the next time we were playing and said: ‘Hey, I just want to let you know I know that call was really bad. I’ve been thinking about it a lot and I wanted to apologize,”’ Winnipeg center Mark Scheifele said. ”When he has the respect level for the game and for us as players, we have respect for him. And I think that’s why he’s known to be the best referee out there.”

Best referee out there? ”Now you jinxed me – now I’m going to be up and down like a toilet seat next season,” McCauley quipped. Maybe earlier in his career that was a danger, though McCauley now has 957 regular-season and 131 playoff games under his and has worked six Stanley Cup Final series.

Over that time, McCauley has developed a balance between knowing players see him as an obstacle to winning while still communicating with them to the point they know him personally. Even if players aren’t happy with his calls, they appreciate McCauley’s honesty and ability to have just as big a mouth as they do.

”You automatically sometimes snap at the refs,” Stars center Tyler Seguin said. ”Sometimes you blame the refs for things that were even out of their control. And he finds a way to take it, give it back a little and then move on pretty quickly and he’s always been very respectful to the players and I think that’s what makes him a great ref.”

McCauley’s life experiences helped make him a great ref. His dad, John McCauley, worked 15 years as an NHL referee before an eye injury took him off the ice and led to a director of officiating job before his unexpected death at age 44. His brother, Blaine, suffered an eye injury that cost him his hockey-playing career and changed Wes’ view forever.

”My biggest thing is when I step on the ice, I want the players to feel like, ‘Oh, OK we’re going to get a fair shake tonight,”’ McCauley said. ”I’ve never really taken it for granted, so I try to go out there and referee every game the best I can.”

Follow AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno

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Humboldt Broncos ready for emotional return to the ice

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New season. New head coach. New players. But the memories from last season will never be replaced.

Wednesday night, inside a sold out Elgar Petersen Arena, the Humboldt Broncos will be playing hockey again in what should be an emotional scene.

It was the night of April 6 that 16 people, including 10 players, were killed and 13 others injured in a bus crash as the team was traveling to a Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League game in Nipawin, Saskatchewan. The summer was spent healing and rebuilding. Despite the tragic loss, the team was determined to play again to help the community of Humboldt.

Among the dead was Broncos head coach Darcy Haugan, who’d been behind the bench since 2015. During the NHL Awards in June, he was honored as the first recipient of the Willie O’Ree Community Hero Award, which is awarded to “to an individual who – through the game of hockey – has positively impacted his or her community, culture or society.” 

Ten members of the Broncos reunited on stage in Las Vegas, along with Haugan’s wife, Christina, to accept the award.

Replacing Haugan behind the bench is former NHLer Nathan Oystrick.

“I’ve said it time and time again: I’ll never be Darcy Haugan. I’m not trying to be Darcy Haugan. I’m trying to be myself,” Oystrick recently told the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix. “For the people that knew him, they loved him to death. But I’m trying to bring my own elements, my own thoughts and ideas. I’m not trying to take his spot, that’s for sure. There are things, obviously, from his core covenant, that I believe as well: that’s relationships and respect … But at the same time I’m just trying to be myself and coach the way I coach and do the best I can.”

As the Broncos prepare to take the ice for their season opener, their hearts and minds will be on those lost on April 6 as well as Layne Matechuk and Morgan Gobeil, two players who remain hospitalized as they recover from traumatic brain injuries. Gobeil’s family released a statement on Monday saying that he’ll remain in hospital for a few more months with a long road of recovery ahead.

The hockey world rallied around Humboldt and the team following the crash. A GoFundMe campaign raised over $15 million and total donations reached $20 million. (According to TSN Frank Seravalli, it’s still being determined how to disperse the money, which will go only to the 29 families who had someone traveling on the bus that night in April.) In August, Chandler Stephenson of the Washington Capitals used his day with the Stanley Cup to bring it to Humboldt, a promise he made before the start of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

It was evident that around every corner, the Broncos had the support of many around the world.

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When the post-game ceremony ends, the Broncos will then begin preparing for the next hurdle. On Friday, they’ll begin their first road trip since the crash as they travel to Nipawin, the destination they were heading to on April 6. It’s “a road trip that we never finished,” said Brayden Camrud, one of two survivors who returned this season.

The final standings won’t matter at the end of the season. The fact that the Broncos are back on the ice with the support and love of the Humboldt community and hockey world will help get them through what will be an emotional season.

“They’ve gone through hurt last year,” Oystrick told the Canadian Press. “Some of these guys lost friends last year and the year before. So guys are dealing with things and will continue to deal with things.

“My faith has not been destroyed by this, in fact it’s probably been strengthened.”

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Stanley Cup visits Humboldt Hockey Day, memorial site

Associated Press
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For all that the community of Humboldt has been through over the past several months, a little bit of joy washed over the rural Saskatchewan town on Friday.

Humboldt hasn’t left the minds of those in hockey communities around the world since a tragic bus crash tore through the hockey world and claimed the lives of 16 players and team staff on April 6.

Chandler Stephenson of the Washington Capitals, a Saskatoon native, made a promise before the playoffs began that if they won he’d take it to Humboldt.

It was a classy gesture at a time when a community was stricken with grief, but on Friday, the Stanley Cup champion got a chance to make good on the pact he made just days after the horrific accident as Lord Stanley paid a visit to the town of 6,000 as part of Humboldt Hockey Day organized by the NHL and the NHLPA.

The Cup made an emotional stop at the site of the crash at the intersection of Highway 35 and 335, where a memorial now stands with crosses bearing the names of those lost along with hockey sticks, flowers, stuffed animals and other tokens of remembrance.

Philip Pritchard, the ‘Keeper of the Cup’, tweeted out, “While their Stanley Cup dreams went unfulfilled, we thought we’d bring Stanley to them. God Bless,” along with pictures of the Cup in the middle of the memorial site.

From there, it went to Humboldt’s home rink, Elgar Petersen Arena, where Stephenson was joined by several NHLers, including Brayden Schenn, Brayden McNabb and Brett Kulak along with around 3,500 people from the town.

The Canadian Press reported that Stephenson met with some of the parents of the players involved in the crash.

“It’s tough … listening to some of the parents,” Stephenson said. “It’s tough to talk to them (to) … give your condolences. Nothing can replace a life, so you just try to help out as much as you can and that’s what this day is all about.”

Stephenson used to play with members of the Broncos, including Kaleb Dahlgren, who was one of 13 to survive the crash.

“That means so much to me,” Dahlgren told CP. “I know those people that lost their lives there would really appreciate that. I appreciate it too. It’s nice to honor that and it really does mean a lot.”

#HumboldtStrong


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Driver arrested in Humboldt Broncos bus crash facing 29 charges

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The Royal Canadian Mounted Police announced on Friday that the driver of the tractor-trailer that collided with the Humboldt Broncos’ bus, killing 16 players and staff and injuring 13 others, has been arrested.

Jaskirat Singh Sidhu, 29, has been charged with 16 counts of “dangerous operation of a motor vehicle causing death” and 13 counts of “dangerous operation of motor vehicle causing bodily injury.” He was uninjured and detained after the crash before being released.

The team was on its way to a Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League playoff game in Nipawin, Sask. when the April 6 crash occurred.

From the CBC:

He was heading westbound on Highway 335 in a semi as a Charlie’s Charters bus carrying the Humboldt Broncos was travelling northbound on Highway 35 to an SJHL playoff game in Nipawin, Sask.

The bus had the right of way. There is a flashing stop sign for drivers on Highway 335 at Highway 35 between Nipawin and Tisdale. The RCMP said the semi was in the intersection when the bus crashed into it.

Sidhu worked for the trucking company for one month prior to the fatal collision, according to owner Sukhmander Singh. Singh said Sidhu trained with him for two weeks and was driving on his own for two more weeks before the crash.

According to police, Sidhu will remain in custody before appearing in Saskatchewan provincial court sometime next week. Per the CBC, “convictions for dangerous operation of a vehicle causing death can result in a sentence of up to 14 years in prison, while a conviction for injuring someone could land someone in prison for 10 years.”

A GoFundMe fundraising campaign started by a Humboldt resident ended in early April after raising over $15 million to help the families of victims and survivors. Donations have continued, however, and the number is now over $19 million, according to Broncos president Kevin Garinger.

In May, it was announced that the Broncos would ice a team next season in the SJHL. The first step in the rebuilding process was to hold a training camp featuring 80 invited players. Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Mike Babcock and Colorado Avalanche head coach Jared Bednar were on hand to assist.

As the hockey world continued to send its support, the Broncos hired Nathan Oystrick as new head coach, replacing the late Darcy Haugan, who was named winner of the inaugural Willie O’Ree Community Hero Award at last month’s NHL Awards show. Washington Capitals forward Chandler Stephenson, a Saskatoon native, said he will spend his day with the Stanley Cup in Humboldt.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Humboldt Broncos reunite to honor late head coach

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Ten members of the Humboldt Broncos reunited on Wednesday night during the 2018 NHL Awards in Las Vegas. The survivors of the April 6 bus crash that killed 16 players and staff were on stage to help give out the first Willie O’Ree Community Hero Award to their late head coach Darcy Haugan.

The award, presented “to an individual who – through the game of hockey – has positively impacted his or her community, culture or society,” was voted on by the public after fans submitted candidates, and the field was then narrowed down to three finalists.

From the NHL:

Haugan left a lasting impact in Humboldt, Sask., as well as every other community that was fortunate enough to have him as a resident or involved in junior hockey. He changed the lives of many of his players, always being there for each one of them and never hesitating to give them a second chance. He fought for his team and had their backs – he was the coach and mentor everybody wanted. Haugan believed strongly that the game is not about making hockey players; it is about making amazing human beings. He did just that, building up young leaders who also developed strong hockey skills along the way. His presence would fill the room and his love for the game was undeniable. Haugan died doing what he loved, surrounded by the young people he dedicated his life to. Haugan left behind, in all of those he touched, his spirit and passion for the game, his love for his beautiful family, and his example of dedication to his community.

Haugan’s wife, Christina, accepted the award in his honor.

The other finalists were Debbie Bland of the Etobicoke Dolphins Girls Hockey League and Neal Henderson of the Fort Dupont Hockey Club.

The NHL Foundation is donating $10,000 in Haugan’s memory to the Saskatchewan Brain Injury Association, a charity important to the coach.

On Tuesday, the NHL and NHLPA announced that Washington Capitals forward Chandler Stephenson will bring the Stanley Cup to Humboldt on Aug. 24 that will involve a skills competition at the Broncos’ home rink.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.