Former National Hockey League (NHL) referee Mick McGeough, is being remembered by players, coaches, broadcasters, and NHL officials as a “true friend of the game,” after suffering a stroke last weekend and dying on Friday at the age of 62.
As Canadian magazine Sportsnet notes, the job of a sports official is to be basically invisible. Enforce the rules, fairly and judiciously, keep the game moving, and above all else, do not make it about you. Mick McGeough, however, threw all that out the window, maintaining an officiating style that can most charitably be described as “colorful,” in an era when an NHL game was considered boring if fewer than five fistfights took place.
For example, when signaling that a goal had been scored, McGeogh would stand on one leg and twirl his harms in a circular motion, something which would later be nicknamed “The Helicopter.”
With a surname that coincidentally sounds exactly like that of nearly-blind cartoon character Mr. Magoo — almost too perfect for a sports official, who will oft be derisively called “blind” by everyone who doesn’t benefit from his call — McGeough began his NHL career in 1987. At the time, the NHL didn’t require helmets, but everybody who played, watched, officiated, or coached the game knew that to take to the ice without proper headgear was foolish to say the least.
McGeough didn’t care. Starting with the 2006-2007 season, when the NHL dictated that everyone on the ice was required to wear a helmet, did McGeough finally start wearing one. Two years later, he retired, after having officiated 1,083 regular season games, 63 playoff games, and the 2006 Stanley Cup Finals, as Sportsnet reported last week.
Though he’d been retired for ten years before he died, his presence still loomed large over the hockey world. And in his death, tributes are pouring in.
Speaking via the Regina Leader-Post, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman called McGeough “a true friend of the game.”
“Mick’s passion for the game shone through on a nightly basis. He earned and maintained respect from players, coaches, general managers and his peers throughout his career with a unique style that combined humility and humour with decisiveness and fairness.”
Similarly, minor-league hockey league Western Hockey League — where McGeough got his start — senior director of officiating Kevin Muench described McGeough as a showman.
“Mick was an entertainer… He was energized and flamboyant on the ice.”
Meanwhile, McGeough’s former union, the NHL Officials’ Association, also mourned the loss of one of their greats.
“Throughout his 21-year on-ice career and subsequent management role, Mick was always known for his wit, humor and ability to tell a great story.”
It remains unclear, as of this writing, if the NHL will officially honor McGeough on the ice at a later date.