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Dave Jackson, the former National Hockey League referee who lives in Highlands Ranch, grew up a fan of the Montreal Canadiens and admits he worshiped players like Guy Lafleur plus a horde of other great players he had the opportunity to watch play.
The Quebec native wanted to be an NHL player but realized as a 180-pound defensemen that his chances of become a headline player were slim, so instead he developed into one of the league’s top referees.
He worked his last game last month in Los Angeles when the Kings played the Arizona Coyotes and he isn’t sure yet what retirement has in store for him, but he plans to play hockey twice a week at South Suburban Ice Arena, mountain bike, snowboard and play a little golf in the meantime.
During the last month of his farewell tour around the league, coaches and captains would shake his hand and indicated they appreciated his service.
“It made me feel like I was respected,” said Jackson.
Jackson, 54, is the sixth NHL referee to work more than 1,500 games. He called 1,629 regular-season and playoff games in his 25-year NHL career, but missed last season because of a hip injury.
He was 14 years old when he began officiating minor hockey in suburban Montreal. He called games in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. His NHL debut was on Dec. 22, 1990 in Quebec City when the New Jersey Devils played the Quebec Nordiques. Lafleur scored the only goal for the Nordiques in that game. He gained full-time NHL referee status in the summer of 1993.
Asked to describe his career, Jackson quickly said “longevity.”
He officiated in vintage arenas and new facilities, worked two All-Star games, refereed games in the Sochi Olympics, called the outdoor game between the Avalanche and Red Wings at Coors Field, created many friends inside and out of hockey and got to visit and explore cities in the United States and Canada.
Jackson claims personal pride is what motivated him.
“The worst thing is when you have a game and you know you didn’t do your best job,” he explained. “You come home for four or five days and stew about it. When you are on the road, you wake up at night thinking about it.
“When I would do a hockey game and nobody yelled at me and I looked in the mirror after the game knowing I didn’t put my effort forward, that bothered me a lot more than when I had a police escort.”
The game has changed. One referee no longer calls games, and the crackdown on interference, holding and hooking has had an impact. And players are bigger, stronger and faster.
“It used to be rare when a penalty was called,” said Jackson. “The game is faster. There is so much more speed and it’s fun to watch. You watch sometimes on TV it looks like a game play. But when you are five feet away from someone and you see a player puts the puck between someone’s feet and see him in traffic and you are saying `wow.’ Sometimes you miss playing the game when you are refereeing.”
Jackson feels the video review of goals is good for the game.
“Scoring goals is so important, so anything you can do to make sure a goal was scored is good,” he said. “Goals are so hard to come by. The bottom line reviews are only for goals.”
Jackson seldom hears verbal abuse or taunting from fans at NHL games because of the glass and the noise during the idle time, but admits that coaches and players sometimes have something to say.
Still, being a referee in the NHL is nothing like some of the reaction in minor league and junior hockey. In fact, he almost gave up being an official in 1982 after a bantam game in Lachine, Quebec.
“I had a group of parents jump me when I was 17 years old ,” recalled Jackson. “They weren’t waiting for me. They just happened to be outside. I walked out and there were comments and it ended up in a fistfight with me and the two linesmen. The game didn’t go the way they wanted. I wanted to quit refereeing but I went back and glad I did.”
New Legacy coach
Legacy, one of the north metro area’s most successful Class 5A football programs, has a new coach.
Corey Heinz has been named the new Lightning coach, replacing Wayne Voorhees, who has moved to new Riverdale Ridge in Thornton to launch to school’s program.
Heinz, a 2005 Highlands Ranch graduate, was an assistant coach for the Falcons after he coached for three years at the University of Tulsa, where he played football. He was most recently the offensive coordinator at Missouri Southern State University, a Division II program.
Legacy went 6-4 last season and the Lightning was 96-64 in 15 seasons under Voorhees.
Jim Benton is a sports writer for Colorado Community Media. He has been covering sports in the Denver area since 1968. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 303-566-4083.
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