It’s been 40 years since Hall of Famer Gordie Howe enjoyed arguably his proudest moment in professional hockey, suiting up alongside his sons (Marty and Mark) as a member of the Houston Aeros of the WHA (World Hockey Association).
At the highest level of competition, it is an almost impossible dream. For those responsible for officiating games, the pipe-dream is somewhat more attainable.
And for two Sudbury hockey referees, that dream came true just a few weeks ago.
Linesman Jean-Yves Maillet is a mainstay at Sudbury Wolves home games, combining with Doug Horner to log more than 60 years of OHL reffing experience.
The Sudbury native (who is incidentally blessed with one of the most natural skating styles in junior hockey officiating) had the chance to work the lines with his 18-year-old son, Yanick, at a Great North Midget League game at Countryside Arena.
There are many father-son combinations in minor hockey circles, but few enjoy the opportunity to work side by side in Midget AAA or above. Likely fewer still take on together the sometimes thankless task of officiating.
Yanick said he fondly recalls being a child and watching his father officiate Wolves games.
“I remember going to the Wolves games and seeing my dad on the ice. It was fun,” the Grade 12 Collège Notre-Dame student said, adding with a chuckle, “well except when you’re in the crowd and they’re booing the refs.”
Despite his excitement at seeing his father out on the ice, Yanick said he was kind of on the fence about becoming a referee himself.
“It was maybe not a given that I would officiate, but I was interested,” he said.
Yanick first donned the stripes as a linesman at 14.
“At first, when you’re on your line and the puck is coming your way, you’re first reaction is to try and stop the puck,” he said. “You learn pretty quickly to try and get away from the puck and avoid it.”
Those who know his father can attest that Jean-Yves is a stickler for detail, a man who takes great pride in his role as an official, regardless of the level of hockey being played on the ice.
It was a given that some of that professionalism would be passed along to his children.
“It’s constructive criticism, it’s all good,” said Yanick. “At first, I had to focus on just working the lines, getting in and out, which I really didn’t get until my second year.”
Time will tell if he will ascend to the same lofty levels as his father. Now 53, Jean-Yves understands all too well that remaining active in the Ontario Hockey League does not come without sacrifice.
“I work pretty hard at it, because I realize that at this age, it’s not always easy to do the higher levels of hockey,” he said.
Still, keeping himself in shape during the off-season in order to perform when the ice is in has meant some sacrifices. Many a summer day has found Jean-Yves putting in time at the Laurentian track while friends enjoy a cold beverage on their patios.
But it’s not without its rewards.
“The highlight, by far, to me was the World Junior Hockey Championships in 1994 in the Czech Republic,” Jean-Yves said. “The World Juniors at Christmas time is a lot bigger now than it was back then.
“Mind you, I remember doing Russia and the Czech Republic,” he continued. “The place was full, 12,000 people. It was massively loud, absolutely deafening — and I was really nervous.”
That might have been the crowning moment of an officiating career that spans more than three decades, but the memories are countless.
“Even today, with every single NHL game, I can identify players that I have come across at the OHL level,” he said.
In the end, however, working his first midget AAA game with his son surpasses most of his other hockey memories. Just ask Gordie Howe.