Kevin Collins still remembers sitting in the Coliseum in Springfield, Massachusetts, changing into his street clothes after hockey practice for American International College back in the 1969-70 season.
Collins, born-and-raised in Springfield, would often drive dormitory student-teammates from campus to the rink.
That day, the rink owner walked in and said he was starting a youth hockey league for weekend mornings and could use some knowledgeable players to referee at $2 a game.
“I’m not paying attention, I have no interest at all,” said Collins, who is being inducted into the United States Hockey Hall of Fame in December for his distinguished career as a linesman. “All of a sudden, [future NHL player Dave] Forbes yells, ‘I’ll do it,’ and then he whacks me and says, ‘Kevin will do it too.’ I have no interest in doing it, and he says, ‘And make sure you schedule Kevin and me on all the same games. He’s my driver.’”
Collins, who retired from the NHL at the end of the 2004-05 season, officiated 1,946 career NHL games from 1977 through 2005, plus 296 Stanley Cup playoffs games — the most by any U.S. official — and 32 games in the Stanley Cup Final, second only to legendary U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame official William “Bill” Chadwick.
Collins and Chadwick are the only two members of the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame elected solely for their work as officials.
Now 67, Collins says that life-changing moment back in college is almost ironic.
“I got hired by the NHL in ’77,” he says, “I’m doing a Boston Bruins game and calling Forbes offside.”
Collins’ most memorable moment came Tuesday, June 14, 1994, in Madison Square Garden, in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final with the New York Rangers defeating the Vancouver Canucks 3-2 to end a 54-year Cup drought.
“I don’t remember my first NHL game, I don’t know why,” Collins said. “But the biggest, greatest thing ever, seventh game of the Stanley Cup Final, Rangers, Vancouver, Madison Square Garden. Nothing in my career is bigger than that, the magnitude of a seventh game, the aura, to have it in that city … I don’t think there’s a bigger sports city in North America than New York.”
Collins went from playing college hockey and officiating, to playing minor league hockey with the Johnstown Jets — basis for the fictional Charlestown Chiefs in the film “Slap Shot” — and officiating over the summer, to full-time commitment in 1974, the year he became engaged and married his wife, Mary. They now have three children and four grandchildren.
He started officiating with youth and quickly progressed to high school, college and the AHL, which held its officiating training camps in Springfield, making it very convenient. Next was the NHL and now it’s a fitting place in the Hall of Fame.
Note: The U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame ceremony will take place Wednesday, Dec. 13, at the Westin Boston Waterfront Hotel. The rest of the Class of 2017 includes Jack Parker, Ben Smith, Ron Wilson and Scott Young.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.