Call Paul Devorski’s cellphone, and the last of the old guard’s ringtone is ... Meghan Trainor’s “Lips Are Movin.”
“I’ve got a 9-year-old. Guess who put that on my phone,” Devorski said, with a big laugh, moments after arriving in San Jose on Tuesday to work his second-to-last NHL game the next night. “Elle loves it.”
Sunday afternoon in Philly will be the end of an era.
When you think of Devorski, you think of Bill McCreary and Don Koharski, Kerry Fraser and Don Van Massenhoven, Mick McGeough and Rob Shick, Terry Gregson and Dan Marouelli.
Old-school, helmetless, visorless refs, guys who used to work solo with two linesmen and nameplates on the back of their striped jerseys.
All those personalities have retired, and Sunday, when the Penguins meet the Flyers, the orange-banded “Devo” will officiate his 1,791st and final NHL game with a hand-picked crew that includes his 45-year-old brother and linesman, Greg.
“I do feel like the old man out there some nights,” said Devorski, a native of Guelph, Ontario, who turns 57 in August. “I give the players credit because they give me a lot of respect. They still lip off. I still lip off back at them. That’s just my nature.
“It’s been a good run, but it’s time. I’m ready to go.”
Devorski was one of the greats.
“The rapport he had with the players was absolutely amazing,” Van Massenhoven said. “He just had a way to be able to deal with the players, and if you can do that, they give you the benefit of the doubt a lot more often than not.”
Devorski got to pick his last four arenas and two final crews. He chose Ottawa at Toronto, Los Angeles at Chicago, Colorado at San Jose and Pittsburgh at Philadelphia.
In San Jose, he chose Brad Watson as his fellow ref and Jay Sharrers and Mark Wheler as linesmen. In Philly, Dan O’Halloran, who worked Devorski’s 1,000th and 1,500th regular-season games, will work Devorski’s 1,594th with Paul’s brother Greg and Steve Miller as linesmen.
“I was handling everything OK until the end of the game in Chicago when the whole Blackhawks team came over and shook my hand. That was pretty cool,” Devorski said.
Devorski worked his first NHL game Oct. 14, 1989, in Hartford. It was an uneventful game, “although I was pretty wound up,” he said.
His father, William, a referee for 35 years, was there. Kevin Collins and Brian Murphy were the linesmen, current Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville was a Whalers defenseman and current Blackhawks assistant coach Kevin Dineen was a Whalers forward. Coach Q signed that original game sheet for Devorski on Monday.
Devorski has worked 197 playoff games, 18 Stanley Cup Final games in seven different finals, two Olympics (Torino and Vancouver), two Winter Classics, the 2004 World Cup of Hockey and one All-Star Game. His most memorable game was Game 7 of the 2009 finals. In the waning seconds, a puck bounced to Detroit’s Nicklas Lidstrom in the faceoff circle with the net uncovered.
“I’m ready to point goal and [Marc-Andre] Fleury makes this big save and the game’s over,” Devorski said. “It should have been tied. But that was it. Pittsburgh won the Cup right in front of me. I walk off the ice and see my [now 20-year-old] son Luk. I said, ‘Come on,’ and took him out on the ice with me.”
Director of Officiating Stephen Walkom had Devorski spend much of his final year mentoring young refs. He was the partner for the NHL debuts of Garrett Rank, Kendrick Nicholson and the first Russian NHL ref in history, Evgeny Romasko.
“Paul brings a calmness to the game like no one else,” O’Halloran said.
Devorski’s wife, Stacey, both his children and siblings Mary and John will be at Sunday’s final game. He leaves the on-ice portion of his career content.
“The game is so fast right now,” he said. “They don’t hold and hook anymore. They’re going that much faster, everything’s around the boards, and I’m not getting any faster. I don’t want to embarrass myself. I don’t want people to say, ‘Geez, that guy should have left two years ago.’
“I had a good career. I was just myself out there. I don’t pull any punches. They know when I’m ticked off. When I’ve got to pull that trigger and turn the switch to be the jerk, I’ll call penalties.
“But for the most part, I’m a pretty laissez–faire, easygoing, happy-go-lucky guy.”
NHL Short Takes
Big Buff lost poise
Dustin Byfuglien is an awesome player — 260 pounds of brute force with a crazy hard shot who can hybrid between forward and defense. He’s as intimidating as they come, often treating forwards like rag dolls.
Just ask the Wild’s Mikael Granlund, whose was body-slammed by Big Buff in December and broke his wrist.
But the Winnipeg Jets star lost it last week. Not only did he frighteningly cross-check the back of the Rangers’ J.T. Miller’s neck (somehow uncalled by referee Dan O’Rourke), he destroyed the final minute with the Jets trying to tie by attacking Mats Zuccarello.
The Jets, fighting for their playoff lives, will play four of their final five games without Byfuglien, who was slapped with a four-game suspension for the Miller infraction.
If the Jets miss the playoffs for the fourth time since relocating from Atlanta to Winnipeg, Byfuglien will regret his temper the rest of the offseason.
Ovechkin closes gap
Washington Capitals superstar Alex Ovechkin scored his 51st goal of the season and franchise-record 473rd career goal in highlight fashion Thursday against Hart Trophy frontrunner Carey Price and the Montreal Canadiens.
“It’s nose-to-nose, head-to-head,” Caps coach Barry Trotz said of the battle for the league’s MVP award.
Earlier in the day, Trotz said in his mind, Price was still the leading contender. Afterward, he said, “I think it’s a lot closer now. It might be a photo finish.”
A playoffs mentality
The Toronto Maple Leafs are up 2-1 in their playoff series. Well, kinda sorta. With the lowly Leafs playing for nothing but pride, interim coach Peter Horachek asked his team to play the season’s final seven games like it was the playoffs.
“I was anxious to get in,” Horachek said. “I think it’s a good way to keep the guys focused on playing these games. I do not want them just to play, I want them to play hard.”
WILD’S WEEK AHEAD
Monday: 7 p.m. vs. Winnipeg (FSN)
Tuesday: 7:30 p.m. at Chicago (NBCSN)
Thursday: 7 p.m. at Nashville (FSN)
Saturday: 2 p.m. at St. Louis (Ch. 11)
Players to watch: Blake Wheeler, Jets; David Backes, Blues
The Jets and Blues forwards are tied for second (behind Zach Parise) among Minnesota-born players this season with 25 goals apiece.
« It’s hard to look around the league and find a guy who’s meant more to his team. »
— Wild coach Mike Yeo on goalie Devan Dubnyk