By Pat Payton
GUELPH – It appears that Scott Driscoll is getting very close to hanging up his skates after 28 seasons as a National Hockey League linesman.
The 52-year-old Seaforth native and former St. Marys Lincolns’ defenceman (1985-89) was planning to officially retire March 18 at Madison Square Gardens in New York, until the Coronavirus pandemic cut the 2019-20 NHL season short. He had 82 tickets for family members and friends, including former Lincs’ teammates such as Jeff Shipley, Jeff Dalrymple, Scott Garrow and Steve Coultes. However, everything abruptly changed March 11 when the NHL postponed all games . . . at least for now.
“That’s what the NHL does; it lets us choose the venue and the crew for our last game,” Driscoll told the Independent in a recent telephone interview. “My last game was going to be at Madison Square Gardens, Pittsburgh versus the Rangers.”
Coultes is a nuclear engineer in Australia, but had made plans to be in New York for Driscoll’s final game. Garrow, meanwhile, is now a college coach in New Jersey.
In his career spanning almost three decades, Driscoll officiated in 1,847 regular-season games and another 185 in the playoffs. “I was hoping to get to 1,850 and that’s three more games,” he said. His combined total right now stands at 2,032 NHL games.
“I’m still optimistic that they resume the regular season at some point, even this year,” he said from his Guelph home. “I’d really like to even work one last game.”
Last game in Toronto March 10
As it stands, Driscoll’s last game was Tuesday, March 10 in Toronto, with Tampa Bay Lightning as the visitors.
“I am very lucky and very fortunate that my last game was in Toronto,” he said. “Ironically, it was my 68th game of the season, which is my number, and my family was there.”
Driscoll said the Maple Leafs were “very kind” and presented him with gifts and did a video presentation during the game.
“At the end of the game, all the Leafs lined up and gave me a hug or shook my hand. It ended with Jason Spezza coming up and shaking my hand. In my 28 years, he’s probably the classiest guy I’ve met. He’s such a great kid, a happy-go-lucky friendly kid. It meant a lot to me. If it ends up being my last hurrah, I can’t go away disappointed.”
Another member of the Leafs came down to the officials’ room after the game to meet his family. “And four players sent their signed sticks down to me. At the end of the day, it meant a lot to me,” he said.
Just a few highlights
Just a few highlights in Driscoll’s career included: three trips to work in the Stanley Cup final, the 2004 All-Star Game, two NHL Winter Classics, and the 1996 World Cup.
“I had the privilege to work in the two biggest Winter Classics,” he said proudly. “This year’s game was in Dallas at the Cotton Bowl between Dallas and Nashville.” Over 85,000 fans watched that outdoor game on Jan. 1, 2020.
Driscoll also officiated in the 2014 Winter Classic between Detroit and Toronto at the University of Michigan. Over 105,000 fans watched the game that day in Ann Arbor.
“It was majestic; the environment was unreal,” he recalled. “I’ve always been a University of Michigan fan, so to work that game was a real thrill.
“It was almost blizzard-like conditions that day and my family almost froze, but that game is at the top of the charts for me. It was really cool. That is a game I will always remember.”
Every red-blooded young Canadian hockey player dreams of someday playing in the NHL. Driscoll didn’t get there as a player, but he’s spent almost three decades in ‘The Show’ as an official. It’s been a great ride.
“It was a dream come true for me,” he said. “Obviously, I wanted to get there as a player, but I knew it was never going to happen.
“As an official, the novelty wears off very quickly because you can’t be star-struck and it is a job. It was a great way for me to earn a good living for 28 years and something I really enjoyed. It was great to make it to that level, but you still had to be grounded. It’s hard to get there, and even harder to stay there.”
Over his 28 years as an NHL official, Driscoll says he stayed approximately 3,300 nights in Marriott hotels around North America.
“That’s eight to 10 years spent in hotels,” he said with a laugh. “It’s mind-boggling; we’re away a lot from our families. Once you get adjusted to the travel schedule, it starts to become a little easier. It was fun and I’m really happy I was able to do it for as long as I did.”
Plans for retirement?
When asked how he’s going to spend his days in retirement, Scott Driscoll has no definite plans just yet.
“Nothing is imminent,” he said. “But I have approached various organizations about getting into coaching or even referee development. I’ve thrown that around out there, but nothing is etched in stone right now. I’m into doing something that could help with the progression of officials or players.”
During retirement, Driscoll will also have more time to deeper explore his real passion: Second World War history. He’s a huge history buff and fanatic for books, films and shows on the topic. Last June, Driscoll travelled to Normandy, France for the 75th anniversary of the D-Day Landings.
“D-Day is my focus,” he says. “I’ve always maintained that my dream job when I retired was to be a tour guide operator and take small groups over to Normandy. I did that last summer when I took nine other people. I rented three houses, and had a big van that I drove. I was the tour guide and talker.
“They were friends and we just split the costs. It was awesome. My uncle (George Miller) from Seaforth participated in D-Day. The more I read, the more I watch, the more I learn . . . the more I want to learn. That is my real passion.”
Back in 2015, Driscoll was honoured for working his 1,500th game in the NHL. One of the gifts he treasured the most that night in Buffalo was an authentic Mark IV Canadian army helmet worn by a soldier on D-Day.
(Look for Part 2 of the Scott Driscoll interview in next week’s Independent).