You will have to forgive Shane Heyer if he doesn’t recall his first game as an NHL official.
After 30 years, millions of air miles and on the cusp of 2,000 NHL regular season games wearing the stripes, Heyer’s life has been a bit of a blur since he first learned the job of untangling hockey players and dodging pucks in Penticton.
“It’s been a fun journey, though,” said Heyer, trying to recall what he was feeling the first time he stepped out on the ice as an NHL official.
It was Oct. 6, 1988, and the Winnipeg Jets were visiting the Vancouver Canucks.
“I do remember it ended 2-2 and it was at the Vancouver Coliseum,” he said. “You know, now when I look at it, I was very fortunate. When I first started, I probably didn’t fully appreciate it. Now I look around as I skate with the best players and best officials in the world on a regular basis and I am thankful.”
On Feb. 25, he will hit the 2,000 game milestone. It’s something he humbly shrugs off, or perhaps it is entrenched in his nature to be even-keeled about everything. Heyer, who grew up in the Penticton Minor Hockey system, got his first taste of officiating at a young age, thanks to his coach Dunc Jamieson.
“Dunc made the whole team try it. So my first time was when I was 11 years old in the old McLaren Park Arena. I kept at it and when I was a teen, Brent Deleeuw started assigning me games in town. Games that I might not have been ready for yet, but I learned in hurry. I came through the minor system, then was in the B.C. Junior Hockey League, eventually to the Western Hockey League when I was 19. I was 24 when I first started in the NHL, pretty young by today’s standards.”
Jamieson, now deceased, was a long-time supporter of minor hockey in Penticton and throughout the province. An award was created last year by the PMHA for lifetime achievement in his honour. The B.C. Hockey Hall of Fame also gives out an award in his name to the minor hockey player of the year.
Heyer’s milestone game will be officiating the Anaheim Ducks against the visiting Edmonton Oilers — fitting, as he talks about how fast the players have become.
“There are players like Connor McDavid and they are just getting so fast now. It’s a lot of work to be an official. It is a year-round job because just like the players, you have to work to stay in shape. You have to be dedicated to stay in shape as the players’ skill gets better and they get faster it seems my skill set goes in the other direction,” Heyer said with a laugh.
The official has worked the NHL playoffs, six Stanley Cup finals, an NHL all-star game, the 1996 and 2016 World Cup of Hockey, two NHL outdoor games and even at the Olympics in 2010.
“Our family is fortunate. We do see a lot of fun things. Last year, during the finals, my wife and kids all came to Nashville. They have come with me to New York City for the outdoor game, and we all made the trip to Vancouver for the Olympics,” said Heyer, who has called San Diego his home, with his wife and kids, for the past 22 years.
Heyer estimates he has spent 12 years of his life in hotel rooms. He has long stopped counting the miles spent in the air.
“Over the years, millions. I passed 2,000,000 on American Airlines alone a couple of years ago. That doesn’t even include the first eight years of my career when I was in Vancouver or using different airlines.”
But he wouldn’t change it for the world.
“The players are amazing. You don’t get to appreciate their full speed and skill until you are at ice level with them. Above all else, I love to watch and learn about the game. It drives my wife crazy because when I and home I will have a game going on my phone, another on the iPad and switching back and forth on the TV.”