Langley linesmen ready to hit the ice
At this time last week, Lonnie Cameron was refereeing a bantam minor hockey tournament game at the Langley Twin Rinks.
But with the National Hockey League and the NHLPA agreeing on a new 10-year collective bargaining agreement early Sunday morning, Cameron and another local official, Brad Lazarowich, are finally gearing up to hit the ice.
All they’re awaiting is ratification of the agreement by the owners and players, which is expected to happen by Saturday.
“Always happy to be going back to work,” said the 48-year-old Cameron, who enters his 17th year as an NHL linesman. Cameron did his first game in 1996 and has officiated 1,039 regular season games and another 43 playoff matches.
“It is nice to see us to get back to having a season and everyone doing what they like to do,” said Lazarowich, a 50-year-old going into his 27th season. He did his first game in 1986 and he has done 1,720 regular season games and another 176 in the playoffs.
The officials are expected to go to Toronto next week for two days of instruction before departing to whichever NHL city they are assigned for the anticipated Jan. 19 season start date. The season will be 48 games.
“The players always say there is no substitute for games, and that is the same with us,” Cameron said.
“Game speed and all that, we are going to try and get caught up as quick as we can.”
With no pre-season games expected, they will endure a massive change.
“We are basically going from zero to one thousand miles per hour in the span of a puck drop,” Cameron said.
This is the third work stoppage during Lazarowich’s time with the NHL. The 2004/05 season was completely lost, while there was a shortened season in 1994/95.
He remembers the urgency of the players.
“I have seen the 48-game schedule, it is just like a sprint,” Lazarowich said about teams not being able to afford a prolonged losing streak.
While a shortened season in a condensed time frame — the regular season likely needs to be done by late April — means more wear and tear and travel, the officials are just glad their livelihood is back.
“We went through the 2004/05 lockout and that really sucked,” said Cameron. “We didn’t want to see that come to fruition again.
“I think both sides realized we needed a season, or somewhat semblance of a season.”
During the lockout, Cameron said the officials were just like the fans.
“We were as blacked out and uninformed as everyone else,” he said.
“We had no intel, nothing, nobody on the inside.
“We didn’t know a thing, which is frustrating thing because emotionally, it is a roller coaster.”
One silver lining over the extended off-season — typically pre-season games would be played in September — was the chance to be home more.
For Cameron, that meant helping coach his sons — 10-year-old Logan plays atom and 12-year-old Brayden plays peewee — with the Langley Minor Hockey Association.
Cameron did say his sons were a bit disappointed that he won’t be around to attend their upcoming tournaments.
Lazarowich has a 22-year-old daughter Kimberly, who attends the University of the Fraser Valley, while 19-year-old Sarah is at Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne (IPFW) on a softball scholarship.
Both Cameron and Lazarowich tried to stay sharp, albeit in different ways.
Cameron spent time on the ice refereeing minor hockey while Lazarowich was able to get his left knee scoped.
He also spent the past four months volunteering with both B.C. Hockey League and the B.C. Hockey Association as a linesman supervisor.
“Everybody did different stuff to keep busy and I wanted to do off-ice stuff,” he said.
“It was an opportunity for me to give back and help out, a chance to keep myself busy.”
Part of his work with the BCHL — which already has the Brad Lazarowich Award for the league’s top linesman — included traveling around the province and meeting with officials to provide feedback. He also hosted a number of events for on-ice officials and provided insight on evaluating referees.
“It allows you to step back a little bit, slow your life down just because we are usually so busy travelling,” Lazarowich said.
With two young school-aged children, Cameron took the opportunity to help out around the house as much as he could.
“When I am away, my wife (Nancy), she has to do it all,” he said. “So you help out as best as you can.”
Gary Ahuja/Langley Times
With no NHL games to work, NHL linesman Lonnie Cameron was officiating during a Langley Minor Hockey Association rep bantam hockey tournament Jan. 2 to 4.