PROVIDENCE, R.I. – The first day of the 2021 Advanced Officiating Symposium was kicking into high gear when long-time NHL linesman Brian Murphy opened a panel discussion on the pros and cons of the four-official system with a simple question to the three panelists: what impact did Mark Rudolph have on them and their careers in the game.
One by one, the three veteran USA Hockey officials, Chris Rooney, Scott Zelkin and Don Adam reminisced about how the pioneer of USA Hockey’s national officiating program not only changed their lives but also shaped the future for all American officials.
Standing in the back of the room, Rudolph quietly stood leaning against the door frame, slightly shaking his head as he mostly stared down at his shoes.
“It brings back a lot of old memories of fun times,” Rudolph said prior to addressing the audience of 200 USA Hockey officials as the keynote speaker to round out the evening. “I hear all these accolades and I wish they would stop because it’s ancient history.”
That may be true but it’s also an important barometer of how far the USA Hockey officiating program has come and the opportunities it’s provided for American officials at the highest levels of the game. And according to those who have benefited from the program, a lot of the credit is placed at the feet of Rudolph.
“Every organization has founding fathers and founding mothers. The officiating program has Mark Rudolph,” said Scott Zelkin, a long-time official at the professional level before taking over as the manager of USA Hockey’s Junior Officiating Development Program.
“There were no manuals and there were no summer camps. The program has grown so much over the years, but there is no officiating program without him.”
“In my role in Hockey East I tell the younger officials that you can do anything, but somebody has to believe in you,” added Murphy, who retired in 2020 after 32 years in the NHL. “All it takes is someone to give you an opportunity and for so many people Mark gave them that opportunity.”
Adam can certainly attest to that. In addition to creating the officiating summer camps, Rudolph also gave the aspiring young official the opportunity to hone his skills to the point where he could work the highest levels at international tournaments.
“He is responsible for the vast majority of my career. Every opportunity that I had I would never have done without Mark Rudolph,” said Adam, who is now the head of officiating for the National Collegiate Hockey Conference.
The way that Rudolph sees it, he was simply in the right place at the right time. When he joined the staff at USA Hockey, which was called the Amateur Hockey Association of the United States at the time, the office only consisted of eight people.
“I basically got an office and a small budget and the marching orders to do what you need to do because nobody knew anything at all about what we did as officials. And it kind of developed from there,” he said.
“I never realized the magnitude of what we were doing until some of these guys started getting hired by the NHL.”
One of them was Rooney, a Massachusetts native with the self-confidence to match his abilities on the ice. Rooney’s record backs up his belief in himself with 21 years in the NHL, including 1,229 regular season games and four Stanley Cup finals.
“The first time the NHL saw me work was at summer camp, and Mark started those,” Rooney said. “If you look back at everything that he did and how many people he’s helped and continues to help it’s amazing. I hope he realizes if it wasn’t for those summer camps they wouldn’t be doing what they’re doing.”
Rudolph grew up in Buffalo, N.Y., and worked his way through the officiating ranks to become the first American to work in the Ontario Hockey League. His peers at the time were a who’s who of future NHL officials, including Don Koharski, Dan Marouelli and Bill McCreary. While they all welcomed Rudolph into the officiating fraternity, there were those at the NHL level who weren’t as kind.
“The administrators seemed as though they were always extremely pro-Canadian. I don’t think the guys doing the hiring even knew Americans existed, much less why would you pick one to join their staff.”
Rudolph set out to change that by creating more opportunities for young Americans to advance their careers with the goal of developing more NHL officials.
Each one of these officials, and probably a dozen more who aren’t part of this weekend’s Advanced Officiating Symposium, would say that if it wasn’t for the USA Hockey officiating program and the opportunities that that program gave them to showcase their world-class talents they wouldn’t be where they got to. It that’s something that Rudolph takes great pride in.
“My wife likes to say that the hockey world is my family and the officials are my kids,” he said in closing out his keynote speech. “I’m just glad to see what I started a long time ago is still going strong.”