Kevin Collins said he never took a job or entered a professional situation with any expectations.
"I was taught to just go do my job, and do it every day," Collins said, recalling a lesson from his father. "Go to work, and work hard every day, and your reward is that you did a good job at the end of the day, and just keep doing it."
But with the humblest of expectations, Collins spun one of the most storied officiating careers, his induction into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame in December just the second for an American-born official.
"It was just totally overwhelming. I was speechless," Collins said of when he learned he would be inducted. "I had to pause. You know how they say, 'I need a few minutes here?' My heart was pounding. It's just such a great honor and I'm just very overwhelmed."
Collins joins Bill Chadwick, better known on the ice as “The Big Whistle.” Chadwick, a New York City native, was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto in 1964, followed by joining the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame as part of the Class of 1974. Chadwick officiated in the NHL from 1939-1955, working his way up to be the League’s senior official -- the only American to ever hold the position. He is credited with developing and implementing the penalty hand signals used across the game today.
A former player, Chadwick stumbled into officiating after losing vision in one eye, courtesy of a stray puck during practice. He was asked to fill in for an official who had gotten sick and the rest, as they say, is history.
Similarly, Collins' story is one of humble, practically indifferent beginnings that flowered into a storied officiating career. Playing at NCAA Division II American International College, Collins was volunteered into doing local refereeing by his fraternity brother Dave Forbes, who went on to play for the Boston Bruins.
"He said, 'Hey, I'll do it," Collins said, recalling that day in the locker room when Forbes agreed to be an official in a new, local youth league. "And then he whacked me in the leg — and I wasn't even paying attention to the guy talking — and he goes 'Kevin will do it, too.'"
Seven years later, Collins was calling Forbes, a member of the Boston Bruins, offside in an NHL game, the next stop on his meteoric rise. Less than a decade after Forbes signed Collins up (unknowingly) to volunteer his refereeing services at local youth games, Collins was employed by the NHL.
"I went from not having any interest in doing it (in 1970) to getting hired in 1977," Collins said. "It's a pretty crazy story."
And the rest is history — Hall of Fame history.
It was the culmination of Collins living out the words his father had told him.
"It's still hard to imagine that they bestowed this honor on me," he said.
When Collins first was getting his feet wet into refereeing, he was also still in the midst of his playing career, which included two years in the minors with the Johnstown Jets. He officiated games on the side as a part-time job, a way to stay on the ice and put extra dollars in his pocket.
"It was a pretty good gig," he said, just not yet a job.
This was during a time in Massachusetts where Bobby Orr and the Bruins had the state in a hockey-frenzy, so there was always work for Collins to pick up.
But it wasn't until 1977 when Collins was trying to settle down, and trying to pursue a full-fledged career, that the NHL came into play.
With the American Hockey League's offices in Springfield, Mass., where Collins was from and lived, he had an opportunity to attend its linesman camp, also hosted in Springfield.
John D'Amico — "He's like the ultimate, greatest linesman to ever live," Collins said — and Matt Pavelich both took Collins under their wing. But even then, Collins didn't have the NHL in his sights or on his mind.
After being passed up for a different job in 1977, Collins received a phone call from Scott Larson, the NHL's refereeing chief at the time, offering a position.
"I said, 'What's that involve?'" Collins said. "And he said, 'What do you mean, what's that involve?'
"Of course I'm asking, 'what does it pay?' and stupid stuff, and he's going, 'I don't know how many officials I've hired in my career for these jobs and I've never had a response like this.'"
Collins took a day to think the offer over — all the time Larson would afford him — and he consulted with his wife and parents to make his decision.
"I said, 'Hockey's been good to me; sports has been good to me,'" Collins said. "I was nowhere near a very good student in college. Maybe this is the right thing to do. Maybe I should go down this path."
So the next day, he called and accepted the offer.
"It was the best decision I made in my entire life," he said, chuckling.
Tag(s): Stripes Newsletter