By Rob Vanstone, Regina Leader-Post
While flying from Denver to Detroit, Watson wrote a tribute to a fellow Regina-born NHL referee — Mick McGeough — and, upon landing, kindly shared the heartfelt sentiments with us.
“I consider myself very fortunate to have called Mick my friend,” Watson wrote of McGeough, who died Friday at age 62.
“I got to know Mick when he was officiating in the SJHL. Back in the early ’80s, the referee working SJHL playoff games got to select local linesmen to work the game with them. Rob Fehr gave me an opportunity as a young linesman, and then Mick called me and Mike Hasenfratz to work a game in Melville.”
Think about that for a moment. The officiating crew of an SJHL playoff game consisted of three future NHL referees.
“It really was my first introduction to Mick,” Watson continued. “After that first game, I worked games on the lines in the WHL with him. I would travel along with Mick to games in Moose Jaw, Swift Current, Saskatoon and Prince Albert.
“Those many hours in the car together were full of learning the craft of refereeing, and of stories that only Mick could tell. He had a great sense of humour and was never afraid to laugh at himself.
“On the ice, he was all business. Whether it was a WHL game or an NHL game, Mick came to work. He had a special flair and style that separated him from others. It couldn’t be duplicated, so I never tried.
“I did learn how to take charge of challenging situations with coaches and players after watching Mick work his way up through the ranks. I never mastered the Mick ‘wave-off.’ That was impossible.”
But Watson, like McGeough, did master the fine art of hockey officiating and was therefore assigned to high-profile events in the WHL and beyond.
In 1986, for example, McGeough was a referee and Watson was among the linesmen at the Memorial Cup in Portland.
“We often reminisced about that tournament over the years,” Watson reflected. “Mick moved on to professional hockey and I switched to referee in the SJHL and WHL, using the knowledge that I gained from working games with him.
“Eventually, I made it to the NHL, and once again got to join Mick on the ice. We were both proud to be Regina guys working in the NHL.
“I remember in 2001 when we were paired for a Game 6 in Buffalo, where the Sabres played Philadelphia. It was a big deal getting assigned to a Game 6. It still is. I was pretty nervous, but Mick had this way in the dressing room of keeping things light. Yet, when it was show time, he was ready to perform.”
Watson and McGeough celebrated another milestone — for themselves and for hockey in Regina — when they were both selected to work in the 2006 Stanley Cup final. “There’s a special bond with the final four referees and the four linesmen who work the finals,” Watson noted. “Once again, being from Regina and representing the NHL in the finals was a proud moment for me and, I know, for Mick. “Our group was very proud of Mick, because getting an opportunity to work the Stanley Cup finals is hard work and (requires) some good fortune. Mick earned and deserved his place on the team that year. It’s every official’s dream to have the opportunity to work one.”
Watson has realized a dream by working in nearly 1,600 big-league games, counting the regular season and playoffs.
McGeough also reached the 1,000 milestone — finishing at 1,146 when a 21-year NHL career concluded in 2008 — and also left a lasting impression away from the ice.
“Over the years, Mick would hold court and tell an array of different stories,” Watson wrote. “Some became folk tales that the actual truth got in the way of, but that was Mick — the great story-teller … the entertainer!
“He always had stories of buying cars, snowmobiles, bales of hay or the horses — to just mention a few — and always for a profit. The great wheeler and dealer!
“He loved the Riders. We would talk about the fortunes or misfortunes of the Green and White.
“Mick was a connection to back home. We would talk about our golf days at the Murray, playing with our buddies. Some of our best times laughing were on the course. I miss his duck hook!”
And, while on the road, McGeough missed his family.
“What stood out the most for me about Mick was his love for his kids,” Watson said, referencing Jared, Luke, Kara, Karlie and Isaac. “Mick was so proud of each one of them.
“He shared stories of their personal successes, whether it was in sports or school. He loved talking about them and had such a passion for telling us how proud he was of them.
“Mick’s personality made him very popular with people within the game of hockey. He wasn’t afraid to stand up for what he believed in, but was always there to lend a helping hand if needed.
“Mick was a big part of my officiating career. I wouldn’t have had near the success without his support and friendship, though it was his friendship that I cherished most.
“My friend and teammate from Regina will be so dearly missed.”
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