Ryan Daisy has loved hockey since he was a kid growing up in Mansfield, Massachusetts.
Like most after completing his high school playing days, he looked for a way to stay involved with the game and decided to give on-ice officiating a try. At first, it was simply a job to earn a few extra bucks while being around the sport. He went to Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Connecticut. As he pursued his finance degree, he continued to ref games.
His talents as an official were spotted by USA Hockey and he was invited to a camp in Cromwell, Connecticut, which was part of its Officiating Development Program. The program, which is a key initiative under the leadership of USA Hockey's Officiating Education Program, identifies and trains USA Hockey officials who want to work the highest levels of the sport by providing in-depth coaching, education and exposure.
To say the first camp went well for Daisy is an understatement; it changed his life.
“In my exit interview [at the ODP camp],” Daisy said, “they’re like, ‘Yeah, we really like how you're working. You’re going to be a senior at Sacred Heart University. We’d love for you to finish school and then come out and work for us full time.’ I was like, ‘What do you mean, finish school?’ Like that’s a no-brainer. ‘Guys do this as a real job?’ I was completely oblivious.”
After climbing the ladder through the NAHL, USHL, ECHL and AHL, he became an NHL official in 2016. Then this past season, he got another moment he will never forget when he was assigned to work the Stanley Cup Final between the Colorado Avalanche and two-time defending champion Tampa Bay Lightning.
NHL linesmen Ryan Daisy #81 blows the whistle at an NHL game between the Carolina Hurricanes and Toronto Maple Leafs on April 2, 2019 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Kevin Sousa/NHLI via Getty Images)
The 34-year-old is the first person from the USA Hockey Officiating Development Program to reach the Cup Final. He was assigned to work Game 1, as well as Games 3 and 6 in the rotation of officials.
“It definitely was a moment I will never forget,” Daisy said.
While that was a big event, it wasn’t even the milestone of his summer. He married Elizabeth Fortin on July 23 in Quebec City, Quebec, where the couple moved to last summer for her job as a neuro-ophthalmologist. Daisy’s Cup assignment fortunately was just far enough away to not impact the wedding, with the Avalanche winning the title in Game 6 on June 26.
The opportunity came after missing out on an assignment past the first round in the last three seasons, including 2020 due to having bilateral hip surgery during playoffs that were held in the COVID-19 bubble.
But last season, Daisy kept progressing. First round, second round and the conference finals. He had been paired with Steve Barton before the playoffs began and the veteran linesman gave him some sage advice as the two drove from Toronto to St. Louis for a different first-round series.
“He just looked at me and he's like, ‘Hey, just remember, all the players and coaches you know, they’re all under the microscope, just like us,’” Daisy recalled. “‘It’s going to be an emotional ride, don’t take everything to heart. Players and coaches are going to give you more of a hard time than they did in the regular season.’ But he truly just looked at me and goes, ‘You’re here for a reason. Just keep working the game the way you are.’ And that gave me a lot of confidence right there.”
One thing that probably works in Daisy’s favor is his attitude to striving to get better. Despite everything he achieved this season, he admits he’s never had a “perfect game”.
“I don’t think I will ever have a perfect game,” he said.
He worked Game 7 between the Dallas Stars and Calgary Flames in the first round and just kept his approach simple.
“I didn't really think about what round it was or what game it was,” Daisy said of his thought process. “It’s just another hockey game I get to work.”
When the conference finals ended, Daisy had confidence in what he had done over the three rounds but didn’t know if it was good enough to be one of the five linesmen selected for the Cup Final. He had a conversation with his dad about whether he would make the cut and simply said, “You never know. We’ll find out in the morning.”
Daisy popped open his email the next morning and then flipped his phone over to his soon-to-be wife, who read the email and double-checked it: Daisy had been selected for the Cup Final.
Being selected to work Game 1, Daisy didn’t have extra time to get used to the atmosphere. But with it being the Cup Final, the officials got a rare morning skate, same as the teams typically do.
“It’s pretty cool,” Daisy said. “You go in and you have the whole arena to yourself, but you see all the Stanley Cup Final banners and then the ice and all the [rally] towels are laid on the chairs. So at that point, I started getting the chills.
“It's pitch black and you can barely hear yourself because the crowd is so loud. The moment that you step on that ice, it's just you and the three other teammates ready to do our job collectively.”
Daisy has many people to thank for being where he is today, most of all his parents and his wife. But without being spotted by USA Hockey back on some random rink in Connecticut, he knows he wouldn’t have had this opportunity.
“I really think they truly want to help each individual out there reach their goals, and I felt that I had the support from USA Hockey since day one,” he said. “I'm forever thankful and proud to be an alumni of the USA Hockey Officiating Development Program.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.