When Rob Shick started refereeing at the senior level in Port Alberni’s old ice rink, the facility only had one penalty box.
“There were a lot of enforcers those days, lots of fighting,” said Shick. “Two guys would get into a fight, and then they would have to sit next to each other.”
It was good experience for Shick, who started reffing minor hockey in Port Alberni when he was 15 years old. He eventually moved up to Junior B and senior league games, before making his way to the National Hockey League in 1985. Shick retired in 2009 after refereeing 1,451 NHL games.
This year, on May 31, Shick will be inducted into the BC Sports Hall of Fame.
“It’s humbling, to be recognized on this platform,” said Shick, after learning about his induction. “For what it represents, and coming from a small town in Port Alberni…I’m extremely honoured.”
Shick, who had asthma as a young child, wasn’t able to travel out of town with the local team. Instead, he would walk from his home to the local arena on weekends and referee kids’ games. The young players, he said, were always excited to have a referee at their weekend games.
“It was like their Stanley Cup Final on those mornings,” he laughed.
In Shick’s volunteer days as a referee, the old ice rink in Port Alberni was 35 feet short of regulation. Now, the small town where he grew up has a new arena, a new high school and plenty of new sporting venues compared to when he lived here.
“It’s nice to see,” he said. “There’s lots of opportunity for the young kids.”
Shick spent his winters as a referee on the ice, and spent his summers playing fastball. This, he said, is where he learned respect for the umpires and the game.
“Above all, referees need to understand what is emotion and what is abuse,” he said. “Hockey’s an emotional game. I never wanted to be liked by players. I only wanted to be respected.”
Shick is now in his 34th year with the NHL, although he no longer refs. He is a senior officiating manager with the league, but also does some consulting work with a few leagues in Europe.
“I retired after 25 years and ended up getting two more jobs,” Shick laughed. “I’m not sure how that happened.”
Shick has three games that he considers particularly memorable. He refereed the longest game in modern NHL history, when Philadelphia visited Pittsburgh for Game 4 of the 2000 conference semifinal. The game went to five overtimes.
“We dropped the puck at 7:38 Eastern time,” said Shick. “We stepped off the ice at 2:30 in the morning.”
Shick was a referee in 1997 when the Canucks and the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim visited Japan for the first regular season NHL game on foreign ground. Shick also passed off the puck to Queen Elizabeth during an exhibition game in Vancouver in 2002.
“It was quite a moment,” Shick said. “When you’ve got this young kid from Port Alberni and he’s bowing to the Japanese emperor and in the presence of the queen…it’s been a pretty good career.”
For the most part, Shick said, the most rewarding part of his career has not been the games, but the people he has met. He now lives in Florida for most of the year and travels extensively, but he still considers Port Alberni his hometown.
“There’s a lot to be said about growing up in a small town with the support of your family and friends,” he said. “I still have those special friendships today. Port Alberni’s always been my home, and will always be my home.”
Shick visits his hometown every summer for the annual charity golf classic that he founded. The event was originally called the Rob Shick Charity Golf Tournament and raises thousands annually for local charities, as well as the BC Children’s Hospital. This year, the event will take place on Saturday, July 7 as the Alberni Valley Charity Classic celebrates its 25th anniversary
“Out of everything I’ve done, the golf tournament and what it represents is by far my proudest accomplishment as a professional,” he said. “People in Port Alberni live life as if they make a difference.”
Shick will be inducted into the BC Sports Hall of Fame during a sold-out gala on Thursday, May 31 in Vancouver. Shick was already inducted into the BC Hockey Hall of Fame in 2011. He is the only athlete from Port Alberni—so far—to be inducted into both.