Local linesman working NHL postseason games
Linesman Brad Kovachik makes one of many icing calls against the Calgary Flames during NHL action on home ice in 2015. Postmedia Network file photo
Special to the Times
The Stanley Cup playoffs bring a new level of intensity to the ice, says a Fort Erie resident who has worked more than 130 National Hockey League postseason games as a linesman.
In his 20-year career, Brad Kovachik has made calls in 1,360 matches in the regular season, and in 2014 occupied the blue line in multiple games of the 2014 finals between the New York Rangers and Los Angeles Kings.
In 2015, he was sidelined for the remainder of the playoffs when he suffered an MCL strain - a knee ligament injury - in the Eastern Conference finals between the New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Lightning when superstar Steven Stamkos attempted to check another player and Kovachik got caught up in the action.
In last year’s postseason, Kovachik officiated in three rounds of the playoffs and so far in 2017 has laced up for three games in the first round: game 1 between the Chicago Blackhawks and Nashville Predators, game 2 in the Toronto Maple Leafs and Washington Capitals series, and game 3 between the Ottawa Senators and Boston Bruins Tuesday night, when all four games required overtime.
This was the first time in NHL history that four playoff games required extra time on the same night, proof, Kovachik, how evenly matched teams are in the postseason.
“It just shows the parity that lies in the league right now. Any team that’s in the playoffs can beat any other team, any given night,” said Kovachik, a longtime resident of Fort Erie and native of Woodstock, Ont.
The veteran linesman says he and his colleagues expect added pressure during overtime in the playoffs, but it doesn’t get to their heads.
“You just have to keep doing what you’re doing – keep your head in the game and move forward,” he said in a phone interview.
He and his striped-shirt colleagues are often calling games involving the team they cheered for in their younger years, as fans, he said - he was a Boston Bruins supporter - but objectivity is key and has been for his entire career.
“Every official had that favourite team growing up, but that gets put on the back burner – you can’t really think about that,” he said.
Asked about predictions and some of the surprises that have occurred so far, Kovachik said he stopped trying to guess who will win it all a long time ago.
“I think the last three or four predictions I’ve made about a Stanley Cup winner – they’ve been beat out in the first round,” he said with a laugh.
Kovachik was scheduled to work the line in Anaheim this Friday night, but the Ducks swept the Calgary Flames on Wednesday, ending the series. Kovachik says he will wait to hear where else he is needed in round one, before getting ready for the second round.
In 2001, Kovachik worked his first playoff game and his first NHL regular season game was in 1996.