Faces of the NHL lockout: Whistle blow would be sweet music for league refs

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The upside of the NHL players being on strike is that linesman Brian Mach is able to be with his kids a lot more. He is also helping to coach a youth hockey skills camp that both his boys are participating in at Chaska Community Center.

Photo: Jeff Wheeler, Star Tribune

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Chris Lee and Brian Mach spend 21 days a month on the road.

They jet across the continent, live out of suitcases and feel privileged to be two of 66 NHL officials who keep nightly order in games, often to the dismay of partisan fans.

"My son's my biggest critic, and tells me things I did wrong," Lee said.

Lee, a referee who lives in Lakeville, has worked 703 games since 1999. Mach, a linesman from Little Falls who lives in Chanhassen, has worked 791 since 2000.

"I have only 'X' amount of years to do my business and to make money. This is now the second [lockout] in my career. It hurts," Lee said.

Lee has two children, ages 11 and 4, and for now is a stay-at-home dad who loves watching his son, Joshua, play hockey. Mach has three children: 9, 7 and 5. He coaches his two boys, Brandon and Nathan, and "gives back" to Minnesota Hockey and USA Hockey by teaching and supervising aspiring young Minnesota officials.

Lee and Mach aren't being paid, although the NHL will loan officials $5,000 a month, if needed, out of future earnings.

During the last lockout, Mach worked as a carpenter, doing basements, trim work and remodeling. If the lockout continues, he will look for a job again because, right now, dinners out and non-necessities take a back seat.

Lee is from Saint John, New Brunswick, and his work visa only allows him to officiate. That means he cannot work. Nor can his wife, Cara.

"We're not locked out, but we're a casualty of the lockout," Lee said.

They work out daily to stay in game shape and have weekly rules tests and video refreshers "to stay sharp," Lee said. "We're all pros. We'll be ready when the season starts."

The silver lining is Mach and Lee get to spend valuable time with their families.

"I'm seeing things I haven't seen in 12 years," Mach said.

Added Lee, "We do homework together, stuff I'd normally do over the phone from a hotel somewhere."

Asked recently by his 9-year-old when he's going back to work, Mach tried to delicately explain the lockout. Brandon said, "It's just a game isn't it?' ... He just wants everybody to go back and play hockey. So do I."

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