When you’re a video goal judge for 25 years in the NHL, the answer to “what’s your most memorable call?” could have a few options.
But for Malcolm Ashford, it’s a no-brainer.
“Geoff Courtnall’s goal in Game 6 in the 1994 finals,” he said an hour or so before Tuesday’s final Vancouver Canucks’ home game of the season against the San Jose Sharks.
For those who have forgotten — or are simply too young to remember — Courtnall’s goal at 1:33 wasn’t detected on the ice. The Canucks’ winger took a cross-ice pass from Nathan Lafayette and backhanded a shot past sprawling New York Rangers’ goalie Mike Richter.
But did it hit the crossbar or the bar at the back of the net? It wasn’t until Mark Messier put the puck in at the other end 35 seconds later that anyone knew for sure.
And so Ashford got the call from referee Bill McCreary. Did Courtnall score?
“I saw it right away,” Ashford said. Courtnall’s goal put his team up 4-1 and wiped Messier’s goal from history. The Canucks were off to Game 7 in New York City.
That was Ashford’s first season as the video judge in Vancouver. But it wasn’t his first as an official for the NHL — he had worked seven years as a linesman, beginning in 1969-70, then three years as a referee.
After his first NHL stint, he finished his degree at UBC, started his own business and worked for the B.C. Lacrosse Association. In recent years he’s been the executive director of the B.C. Society of Laboratory Science.
He first got into officiating as a Victoria teenager. Born in England, he didn’t skate until he was 12, after his family had moved to Canada’s West Coast.
“It was a chance to get more ice time,” he said.
Over his 25 years as a video goal judge, the technology has changed. When he started, everything was all about VHS machines. Now it’s all digital.
“And so many more cameras … when I started, there were just two,” he said.
But what hasn’t changed? Goal decisions are still mostly made in Vancouver.
While fans watching on TV are often told the referees are exclusively talking to the NHL operations centre in Toronto when they put the headsets on, the truth is — in Vancouver anyway — much of the time, it’s been Ashford on the other end of the line. (Coach challenges are handled exclusively by the NHL.)
Officials in Toronto are in the mix to help if needed, but in Vancouver it’s been a local production, so to speak.
“I guess they just trust me because I used to be on-ice or something,” he said with a laugh.
Ashford and his wife are retiring to Kamloops, where they’ve built a home on a golf course.
Victoria linesman also hangs ’em up
Tuesday night was also the final assignment for linesman Lonnie Cameron.
After 23 years working in the NHL, the Victoria-born Cameron is retiring as an on-ice official.
“Mixed emotions,” he said ahead of the game at Rogers Arena and his final gig.
“I got on this train 23 years ago. It was bright lights and big cities and now that bright light is right in front of me.”
He lit up talking about his career, so filled with highlights, he proverbially couldn’t pick one.
“What I want to reflect on are the friends and all the people this game has brought along,” he said of his fondest memories.
He got into officiating after his junior career came to an end in Estevan, Sask. He was quickly hired on to work in the Western Hockey League. A decade later, the NHL came calling.
Along the way were chances to officiate in the Memorial Cup and at the Olympics — in 1994 and again in 2014.
A former goalie, it was his strong skating that got him to the pinnacle of the sport.
“I give credit to all the coaches to who said ‘c’mon Lonnie, you’ve got to skate just like the regular players,” he said with a laugh. “Those pads, they were very heavy.”