As the hockey world prepares for this year's outdoor Winter Classic on New Year's Day, HOH called up Rep. Patrick Meehan, a former professional hockey referee, and talked with the Pennsylvania Republican about life on the ice.
Q: Who is your pick to win the Winter Classic? A: Well, I’m a closet Boston Bruins fan from my time at Bowdoin College. So if the Flyers are not in the championship, I want it to be the Bruins. So I’m hoping that the Bruins would win this game.
Q: As a referee, did you ever get to work with (National Hockey League) teams?
A: I was on the NHL staff, as a referee, but my assignments were primarily in the American and Central leagues, which are the highest minor leagues. So many of the players and many of the coaches were on the cusp, in which they would move to NHL teams, either during the season or in the beginning of the next season with respect to the coaches. So there’s quite a bit of movement back and forth at that level.
Q: In what area did you work as a referee?
A: The American league was primarily East Coast-based, the Central League was throughout the Midwest and even into the South. So there were cities virtually all across the country and into Canada that I was able to work. In fact, we used to have a joke that NHL stood for “No Home Life.” That was a wonderful time, when I was young, to be traveling that extensively but it’s not an easy lifestyle by any stretch of the imagination.
Q: About how old were you when you were a referee?
A: I had just graduated from college and so I started when I was about 22 years old and spent four years doing it before I left to go to law school.
Q: Share with us your best reffing story.
A: There are numerous interesting stories from the time and the experience. I think, today, what may interest people was I was doing the Russian national team on the day that they invaded Afghanistan the first time. And it was a surreal experience in the arena on that night. This was a time before we had actually reached the kind of Glasnost that took place. So there was still a lot of intrigue, and this was the continuation of that initial involvement of Russian hockey in North America before any of the Russian players were released to actually play here. So it was a very tense evening and the first time that I had ever been called a communist by one of the fans because I had called a penalty against the home team.
Q: How did you originally get interested in hockey?
A: I went to Bowdoin College in Maine, which was a very powerful hockey school and played my freshman year. I continued playing football and baseball there but in the winter season, I started to officiate hockey games as a way to make money. At the conclusion of my senior year in college, I had a relationship in which I was asked to help officiate the lines for the American Hockey League—officiate as a linesman in the American Hockey League the year after I graduated. So I put off my ambitions to attend law school to see how far I might move up the ranks in officiating and over the course of the four years, moved pretty progressively through the system and had a tremendous time doing it.
Q: How often do you get to skate now?
A: The only hockey I play now is the hockey related to our Congressional Classic . As the new year begins, there’s a group that skates on Monday nights in Alexandria and I will start with [Minnesota Rep. Erik] Paulsen some time in January to begin skating when we can be in D.C. on Monday evenings, in preparations for the March game date.
Q: What position do you play?
A: They put me on defense. At this point in time, I don’t move with quite the alacrity that I once did. I think they think I can cover a bit of ground without being a liability.
The 2016 NHL Winter Classic, between the Boston Bruins and the Montreal Canadiens, is New Year's Day at 1 p.m. EST at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Mass.