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Scott Driscoll takes his hockey journey from the NHL ice to the U of G bench

Now retired as an NHL linesman, Driscoll has joined the Gryphons women's hockey team as an assistant coach

Guelph’s Scott Driscoll might have retired from his officiating job with the NHL, but he isn’t about to skate away from the sport of hockey.

Last month Driscoll was named an assistant coach for the University of Guelph Gryphons varsity women’s hockey team.

“About a year ago now I had knee surgery and I was rehabbing on my own at the university,” Driscoll said during a Zoom video chat. “I popped in to visit coach Rachel (Flanagan) and coach Katie (Mora) and I said, 'Look, I understand you've lost one of your assistants off of your national championship team. I know you're probably going to want to fill it at some point and I'm just going to throw this out there. If it's still available a year from now, I'm retiring and I have a vast hockey background between playing and officiating and I would really like to get into coaching.

“I did a little bit of coaching with my youngest son's hockey teams up through the ranks including his Bishop Macdonell junior boys' team which I loved. I had a great experience. It's something I'd like to shift gears. I don't really see many opportunities opening up in the officiating world, but this coaching is something I'd like to do.”

He had a bit of a trial during the 2019-20 OUA women’s hockey season and it went well. 

“I went and watched a couple of (Gryphon) games during the year and I'd give my thoughts and my evaluation,” he said. “I ended up watching a couple of recruits play and gave my feedback. When I was formally retired officially, I reached out again and we talked. I'm really excited. I'm looking forward to a new challenge and it's going to be a lot of fun.”

Driscoll wrapped up his NHL career in March of this year at Toronto’s Scotiabank Arena working a game between the Leafs and Tampa Bay Lightning, his 1,847th regular-season game. His first had been a match between the New York Islanders and Boston Bruins at Boston Garden during the opening week of the 1992 season.

He also worked 185 playoff games including games in the 2004, 2007 and 2014 Stanley Cup finals. He also worked the 2004 NHL All-Star Game, 1996 World Cup of Hockey and the 2014 and this year’s outdoor Winter Classic games.

Driscoll’s final game came a little earlier in March than originally planned as he had been scheduled to finish his career about a week and a half later, but the game he picked as his planned exit game was one of the NHL’s regular-season games that was eventually cancelled due to the pandemic.

“At the time it was disappointing,” he said. “It's like planning a wedding. I had close to 100 people coming to the game. I had a bar rented. I picked my favourite venue in the entire NHL, Madison Square Garden in New York City. I had so many people that were attending and it was going to be kind of a trip/adventure because they were going to the city of New York. A lot of people from my small town (Seaforth, Ont.) were coming. When it happened, I was holding out hope that we were going to be able to get it in sometime, but then when the season was cancelled and we were told that we weren't coming back.”

The initial disappointment wore off and the Guelphite feels that having his final game in Toronto actually ended up being a fitting one.

“I like to put things into perspective,” he said. “The one thing that I will say is that I'm a real big World War Two, specifically D-Day, (buff). What I've read, and I'm currently rereading Stephen Ambrose's D Day, Canada on Juno Beach, we had 350 men killed on D Day. Young Canadians. They didn't have a future after that. For people that lost people in the pandemic, for me to be upset that I missed out on one hockey game, that's not right. I got over it and moved on.

“I like to think that things happen for a reason. Ironically, I did have my last game in Toronto, now. It was my 68th game of the season, which is my number. The Leafs were amazing to me.”

The Leafs presented Driscoll with a signed Darryl Sittler jersey – he was a Sittler fan before becoming an NHL official. He also had his entire family in attendance, saw a video tribute of his career during the first commercial break and the last player to shake his hand was one he developed an immense respect for, Jason Spezza of the Leafs.

“I actually presented him with one of my jerseys that I'd worn in the first period,” Driscoll said. “I signed it and presented it to him. He's just a really, really, really classy guy and a fun guy. He doesn't take the game too seriously. He wants to win, but at the same time he's just a really cordial young guy on the ice and I grew to like him a lot.”

The friendship with Spezza started a little by accident.

“I was working a playoff game with Ottawa and there was a close play. There was a puck shot out of play. We got together as a crew and we said that it was deflected and (Spezza) and I believe it was two other players, (Daniel) Alfredsson and maybe Chris Phillips, they were over at a commercial time out.

"They were over and 'You better watch that play. You better go watch that play after the game.' And I'm like 'I'm not watching that play after the game.' And Jason's like 'Why not?' I said, 'Well you know what Jason? When I get home tomorrow I'm going to have to cook and clean and do laundry. I've got a lot of things on the go. I'm not going to sit and watch a play I saw 100 per cent live.'

“About three weeks later there was another playoff game in Ottawa and there was a puck shot out of play. Bryan Campbell had shot it out, but he had just got to the blueline so therefore it wasn't a penalty. He was outside his zone, it wasn't a penalty. He (the referee) made the call and I was adamant to my colleagues. 'No, he was at the blueline. He was at the blueline.' Unbeknownst to me at the start of the next period Spezza came up to me and he said 'Hey, I just want you to know. I checked on your call and you were right.' I said 'Thanks.' 'No, because when you get home you've got to cook and you've got to clean and you've got laundry to do and you don't have time to watch that.' I thought 'You funny guy.' After that we had a great rapport.”

Driscoll was playing minor hockey in his hometown of Seaforth when he took up officiating. It wasn’t anything that he had originally planned to do, but it just sort of came his way.

“They needed young officials and a lady named Joyce McClure came to me and asked me if I'd be interested in getting into officiating ... the young kids. Myself and two of my friends decided to go get our Level 1 and the next year we got our Level 2 and the rest is history. I really enjoyed it. It was fun. I was at the rink. I was skating. I was being part of the hockey game and at the end of the day I was being paid a little bit of money. I was like 'Wow, this is a great thing getting paid to do something you like.' So it just went from there. There's no other way I can describe it. I accidentally fell into it and I'm glad it happened.”

Now he’s looking forward to being part of the Gryphons women’s team’s coaching staff and feels he has lots to offer.

“Part of being an official is that I've been able to go up and down in front of the benches of some of the best coaches in the world. It's almost by osmosis, I hear what they're saying and it makes sense. When I'm watching my son's team playing, especially recently when he was playing midget AAA or playing junior B, I'd see the teams making these mistakes. I'd be 'That's intuitive. Why are you doing that? Why are you not getting the red line before you shoot the puck down the ice? Why are you changing with the puck in your own end?' Little things like that make the difference in the game. I'm looking forward to being able to impart some of that wisdom (to the Gryphons coaches and players). It's all about transfer of knowledge down to them and it's going to be exciting.”