NHL referee Wes McCauley of South Portland will be honored at a Maine Mariners home game on Nov. 15. McCauley was voted the league’s top reference in a poll of players in 2018. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Referees typically aren’t the center of attention in the National Hockey League.

But the hockey world held its collective breath in May when Wes McCauley – voted as the league’s top referee in a 2018 poll of players – took a tumble during Game 6 of the Western Conference finals between the St. Louis Blues and the San Jose Sharks.

McCauley, 47, had to be helped off the ice after pulling a hamstring when he collided with a linesman in the first period. The injury prevented him from working the Stanley Cup finals for a seventh consecutive year.

“Unfortunately, it was a tough time of year to do it. That’s what you work for – you want to do the Stanley Cup,” said McCauley, a longtime South Portland resident. “It was kind of a freak thing – one of those things that you can’t control.”

On Wednesday, McCauley was at Cross Insurance Arena, where the Maine Mariners plan to honor his career during a Nov. 15 game. McCauley will sign autographs and provide color commentary for the broadcast team as the Mariners take on the Brampton Beast.

A video montage of McCauley’s famously-dramatic calls will play on the arena’s jumbotron between periods. His crowd-pleasing theatrics became a part of McCauley’s public persona in 2016 after a video of him putting up his dukes for a fighting call in a game between the Boston Bruins and the Montreal Canadians went viral.

“I’ve been doing that fighting signal for a while, and then it got caught on camera one night and then next thing you know …” said McCauley. “This new generation with social media and everything – I guess if a person likes it, it can really take off.”

A native on Georgetown, Ontario, McCauley began his professional career as a player in 1990, when he was chosen out of Michigan State in the eighth round of the NHL draft by the Detroit Red Wings. He played minor league hockey for five years, including a season in the ECHL with the Knoxville Cherokees, before an injury in 1997 prompted a switch to refereeing. He followed in the footsteps of his father, John, a longtime NHL ref who officiated games of the old Maine Mariners during the 1970s and 1980s.

McCauley quickly rose through the officiating ranks, working games in the ECHL and American Hockey League before seeing his first NHL action in 2003. He became a full-time NHL referee for the 2005-06 season.

“It’s brought back a lot of memories,” said McCauley of being honored at an ECHL game. “It feels like yesterday (I was) on a sleeper bus going from Knoxville to Hampton Roads playing.”

Wes McCauley breaks up a fight between Pittsburgh Penguins left wing Jake Guentzel, left, and New York Islanders center Brock Nelson during a first-round NHL playoff series in April. Julio Cortez/Associated Press

He has officiated 1,173 NHL games, including six Stanley Cup finals. In 2018, he was voted the league’s best referee in an NHL Players Association poll, earning 47.8 percent of the votes. The next-highest ref, Kelly Sutherland, received 17.7 percent.

“He’s refreshing. He really seems to enjoy his work, and he calls it the way it is,” said Danny Briere, the Mariners’ general manager who played in the NHL from 1997-2015. “He’s not there to try to please anyone, but I always appreciated how frank and honest he was as a referee.”

The flair was an added bonus.

“I think it’s easier to do that when you’re respected by most of the players and most of the hockey world,” said Briere. “He’s not afraid to show his own style, which is awesome. It’s good for the sport.”

For McCauley, the theatrics are about more than generating an internet buzz.

“As an official, the biggest thing is, you have to be yourself. You have to be yourself, you have to communicate, and you have to show the players and the coaches that you care, that you like being out there.”

As a veteran referee, it’s advice that he shares with his younger colleagues.

“You make mistakes. But when you show you care and you want to be there, it’s like any other walk of life – people have a little more time for you.”

This summer, McCauley has been relaxing with his wife and three children at their home in South Portland. He said he is healthy and ready for the start of the regular season on Oct. 2.

McCauley watched the Stanley Cup finals between the Boston Bruins and St. Louis Blues from the stands. The NHL had named him to the officiating crew before his injury.

“Obviously, it’s different,” said McCauley. “You want to be on the ice, but it’s neat to sit around and support your teammates who are doing a great job and just kind of soak in the atmosphere. It’s still the Stanley Cup finals.”

UPDATE: This story was corrected on Aug. 8 at 12:50 p.m. to show that Wes McCauley attended Michigan State.

 


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