TAMPA, Fla. – Don Koharski is ready for his next challenge.
The veteran referee completed a 32-year on-ice NHL career in Thursday night’s game between the Washington Capitals and the Tampa Bay Lightning.
“I’m ready,” Koharski said before the game. “I just finished my last road trip, four games in eight days. At about day six of the road trip, I said, ‘Yeah, I made the right decision.”‘
The 53-year-old Koharski is expected to join NHL management to work with and recruit on-ice officials.
“There’s some opportunities knocking at the door for me, and I think I can make a difference off the ice,” Koharski said. “I just seen a window of opportunity to help our guys that are going to get an opportunity now to take it to the next level. I want to be part of that.”
Koharski, who lives in Dade City, expected his final game to be tough from an emotional standpoint.
“It’s been my whole life,” Koharski said. “Somebody said to me, if you happen to hear the announcement, ‘you have one-minute to play in the third period,’ what are my thoughts going to be at that time. I said ‘well, there’s one minute left in my on-ice career.’ This gruff old guy wears his emotions on his sleeve.”
Around 120 family members and friends were expected to watch Koharski’s final game.
Koharski worked in the World Hockey Association before appearing in his first NHL game as a linesman on Oct. 14, 1977. His first contest as a referee was Nov, 18, 1981.
Highlights for Koharski include his first Stanley Cup final and working the 1987 Canada Cup final between Canada and the Soviet Union, in which the Russians asked for him to be the referee.
“I just look at where the world hockey and international hockey is since that day, and realize the best officials are from the National Hockey League,” Koharski said. “The world accepted that the best officials are from the National Hockey League and it opened up a lot of doors. I’m pretty proud of that.”
Koharski was involved in an infamous moment during the 1988 playoffs when New Jersey coach Jim Schoenfeld waited for him after a game and told the ref to “have another doughnut.”
“I wish Schonie was here tonight,” Koharski said. “In Carolina, he called me over and wished me good luck. Schonie is a good guy.”