It’s likely that Oct. 30, 2015, isn’t a date that National Hockey League official Brian Mach will ever forget. When the puck dropped between the Minnesota Wild and Chicago Blackhawks at the Xcel Enegery Center in St. Paul, Minn., it signaled more than just the start of the game – it also signaled NHL game No. 1,000 for the 16-year veteran official, a feat never before achieved by a Minnesotan.
USA Hockey caught up with the Little Falls, Minn., native to hear first-hand what crossing the 1,000-game plateau really feels like.
USA Hockey: You were the last walk-on cut while trying out for the University of North Dakota. Why turn to officiating and not something like broadcasting, writing or driving the Zamboni to stay involved in hockey
Brian Mach: I'm still on the same playing field in the game. The blood, sweat and tears; the bumping and the grinding. My ultimate goal was to work the state high school hockey tournament in Minnesota and work the Western Collegiate Hockey Association. That was the big-ticket item for any Minnesota kid that got into officiating – that's your ultimate end game. We didn't know much more after that. We didn't know about the East Coast Hockey League, the American Hockey League and how that whole path worked.
USAH: What were some of the early challenges you faced in the professional ranks, starting in the ECHL?
Mach: I really had no clue what I was stepping in to. I knew it was minor professional hockey but I had no ties. I had just finished school and I said 'hey, this is a good chance for me to spread my wings and see what's out there.' The first couple games I got out there, the players were bigger, older, faster and a lot nastier. The first game, we had four or five fights. I'm sitting there going 'I've never really broken up a real fight until that point.' I'm as green as can be, thinking 'What is this? What did I get myself into?' The next game brought the same stuff and it just kept coming and coming and coming. That's the way the East Coast Hockey League was back in the late 1990s. I was absolutely scared for my life going 'what did I get into?'
USAH: And now all of the rough stuff is your favorite part of games?
Mach: That is the best part of the hockey game for me. Obviously the calls are fine and I love being on the ice, but when the games get a little gnarly and nasty is when I tend to shine. That's where your heart starts racing and it's time to put the work boots on and tighten them up tight. That's exactly what I'm looking for, those games where that whistle blows and you've got guys trying to one-up the other. If it's a little scrap here or a little stick work here, that's exactly what I love to get involved with.
USAH: How tough is it to keep up with all of it?
Mach: Your workouts are harder and longer. You are doing more to keep yourself in shape. This past summer, I did something I had never done before and hired a power skating instructor. I worked with the power skating instructor twice a week all summer long, just to improve my skating stride so I can stay up with these 18, 19 and 20-year-old kids that are absolutely flying up and down the ice. If I don't do that, I've got somebody biting my heels, trying to knock me off of my position. It's a lifestyle change, and if you want to stay here, this is what you've got to do.
USAH: To be honored in Minnesota for your 1,000th game, what was that like?
Mach: Absolutely unbelievable. I still can't believe what I've accomplished and how Minnesota, the team and the organization, responded with how they treated me. They treated me top-notch. They are true to what their campaign slogan is and giving back to Minnesota. It was interesting talking to the Wild about this event and they were all on board and couldn't believe that I picked them to have my 1,000th game. For them to say 'Hey, you're a home-born guy, you picked us, that's great, we appreciate it.' that says a lot.
USAH: What does it mean for you to be the first Minnesotan to do it?
Mach: I'm kind of in shock about it. We have so many officials that come through Minnesota that are very, very good. Those guys have that same desire and they want to be home. You work in the state high school hockey tournament, that's an elite group of guys. You're working with WCHA, Big Ten, (NCAA) Division II, Division III hockey, but you're afforded the luxury of being home and able to do that. I envy those guys to be able to have the family life. I'm not going to lie, it's tough on me and my family. I'm gone. I've missed so much stuff with my three kids. I'm missing hockey games and tournaments, birthday parties, everything. It is tough but at the end of the day, I have the summers off where those guys that are working in Minnesota and working in the high levels, they have 9-to-5 jobs and I don't.
USAH: You mentioned all the officiating talent in Minnesota. As hard as it is to get into the NHL as a player, openings for officials are even fewer. What does that say to you?
Mach: It's special. I still look at that from the day I got hired to where I'm at, and I'm like 'wow, that is one tough nut to crack.'
USAH: How much does fate play a role in getting a job officiating in the NHL?
Mach: You create your own fate. There’s luck involved and there’s timing involved. You got there for a reason.
USAH: What is the best part about what you do?
Mach: Going out on that ice, the lights are off, my heart is racing, the national anthems are playing and it feels like my first game. It's the game itself out there with all those guys and the talent that is on that ice. That's the best part of the game.
USAH: What advice do you have for aspiring officials?
Mach: Go for it. Set your goals and dreams and just go for it. It's a good life lesson too. There are things you can achieve and there are things that you won't achieve. It's how you rebound after you don't make it or you do make it and it tells you what kind of a person you are and what your character is in life.
Tag(s): Stripes Newsletter