Tuesday, April 2, 2019

What's black and white and whistles?

Lonnie Cameron (right) worked his final NHL game as a linesman on April 2, 2019.

By Tom Hawthorn
Victoria Times Colonist
May 24, 2000


Kelsey Chow, age eight, brought a zebra to her Grade 3 class for show and tell on Tuesday.
It weighed 225 pounds and had a black and white coat. Its name was Lonnie Cameron.
Cameron is a linesman -- a zebra in hockey slang -- and his natural habitat is the rinks of the National Hockey League.
The Victoria native came to View Royal Elementary with a message.
"Whatever you guys do," he told Kelsey's class, "try to be the best you can be at whatever you do."
Cameron, 35, wore his No. 74 black-and-white sweater with an orange NHL crest over his heart. He brought his hockey equipment, including a girdle and skates and shin pads, as well as a whiskey bag filled with whistles. The kids liked the whistles; they thought the hockey gear was stinky.
"I think I have a really cool job," he said.
Most hockey fans think linesmen have a thankless job that rarely wins them respect. Their daily chores seem mundane compared to the glamour afforded referees with their orange armband and a benevolent dictator's command.
"Kelsey, what does the linesman do?"
"Helps," she said.
"Helps?"
"Helps break up fights."
A linesman's job description includes calling icings and off- sides, dropping the puck for face-offs, and helping the referees maintain order on ice. Often that means sticking their noses into fights they would rather avoid.
The NHL rule book has 103 entries and Cameron is supposed to be able to recall any of them at a moment's notice.
"Say Brooke and Kelsey are in the corner," Cameron told the class, "and they're getting their elbows up. I'd say, `Hey, get your elbows down and play the puck.'
"And if she gave me that look," he said, indicating Kelsey's scowl, "she's in the penalty box."
Cameron has known little Kelsey since the day after she was born eight years ago to Ross and Lynn Chow. The linesman went to kindergarten with Ross and the families have kept in touch as Lonnie's hockey career took him from Juan de Fuca to Racquet Club to junior in Estevan, Sask., where his dreams of following Ken Dryden as an NHL goalie came to an end.
Instead, Cameron decided to become an official, working in the Western Hockey League where he won the Allen Paradice Memorial Trophy in 1995-96 as the league's top referee. Cameron also was on the ice for the hockey finals at the 1994 Olympic Games. He made his NHL debut on Oct. 5, 1997.
While some educators may occasionally find need of a linesman's assistance, teacher Catherine Harrower runs a tight ship.
In fact, the children in Mrs. Harrower's class are far better behaved than the scofflaws Cameron encounters in his working life. Just last year, Philadelphia Flyers coach Roger Neilson was suspended two games for throwing a stick on the ice that almost hit Cameron.
(In his defence, Neilson said he had no intent of hitting the linesman, but was keen on getting the referee's attention. He did, though not in the manner he intended.)
Earlier on Tuesday, Cameron addressed the intermediate students at View Royal with an inspirational message.
"If you set a goal, always try to achieve it," he told them. "Shoot for the stars. If you hit the moon, that's just a speed bump."
Later, he said, "It's kind of corny, but I believe in that."
With 30,000 officials working in sports in Canada, Cameron told Kelsey's class that he landed one of only 60 jobs open for refs and linesmen in the NHL.
The class asked good questions. Heidi Shenkenfelder asked if girls could play hockey. (Certainly, Cameron said, and he expects the NHL will one day have women officials.) Jeff Camden wanted to know if his dad, the mayor of View Royal, worked as hard as the linesman? (Maybe even more so, Cameron said.) Tyler Laberge simply wore a Maple Leafs sweater. ("Good team," Cameron said.)
Cameron had a trick question in his classroom quiz. How many teams are on the ice during a game?
"Two!" the children shouted.
"Three teams," Cameron said. "We as officials work as a team. If the team in black and white isn't doing their job, they'll know about it from the fans."
The linesman gave an autographed photo to each students. It showed him standing to the side as Donald Brashear punches the face of Marty McSorley.
"These guys aren't really getting hurt," Cameron cautioned the class. "It's all make believe."
After the presentation, the class returned to their study of insects such as the ladybug (not Lady Byng) and the cockroach (not Claude Lemieux, but close).
Mrs. Harrower was not much of a hockey fan before show and tell.
"When I heard that Kelsey was bringing a linesman, I had no idea," she told her class. "I thought he climbed poles."

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