Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Tom Barrasso, right, goes toe to toe with New Jersey Devils' Patrick Elias as referee Bill McCreary calls a penalty on both of them during NHL hockey action in Pittsburgh, April 25, 1999. Bill McCreary and Don Koharski heard plenty from fans as NHL referees, but now they're the ones speaking up about responsible drinking. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Chris Gardner
TORONTO - Bill McCreary and Don Koharski heard plenty from fans as NHL referees, but now they're the ones speaking up.
McCreary and Koharski are working with Crown Royal and the league to promote "Make the Right Call" program that encourages fans to drink responsibly.
"We're just going to take our passion for what we really believe in here from officiating to sending the same message," Koharski said. "We do have a skill-set, and that is sending a message and getting to people and making them listen."
McCreary officiated 1,700 regular-season and 282 playoff games from 1982 to 2011, while Koharski did 1,719 in the regular season and 246 in the playoffs from 1977 to 2009. They're putting uniforms back on for events in Toronto and Vancouver, including an appearance at Air Canada Centre Thursday night during the Toronto Maple Leafs' game against the Carolina Hurricanes and one at Rogers Arena in Vancouver Oct. 30 when the Canucks play the Detroit Red Wings.
They were also set to make appearances at local LCBO and BCLDB stores, in their old uniforms with a dasher board that fans can sign and pledge their support. Koharski joked that his skates don't fit anymore, but they're comfortable wearing the stripes and even more comfortable conveying this message to fans.
"That's what we did as professionals on the ice: part of our job was keeping the players safe," McCreary said. "This is about keeping people safe while they're enjoying themselves. We're asking them to be accountable and buy into our program by being part of our program when they're at the arena."
McCreary, a native of Guelph, Ont., lives in Collingwood and had a jump start on in-person meetings about the program on Koharski, who's originally from Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, but now lives in Florida. Koharski said when he was approached about taking part in this effort, he told McCreary it was a "no-brainer."
The former officials signed the dasher board and hope many others will do the same.
"When they pulled this dasher board in here I got goose bumps," Koharski said. "I'm going, 'That is so cool.' To see these people take the pledge, and I hope they're all sincere when they sign that board, it's a strong message."
McCreary said this is an even more serious endeavour than what he and Koharski did on the ice for a living, so they're taking this job seriously. It's far from just a way for them to keep busy after hanging up their skates.
And they believe their years of experience suit them well for this situation.
"We've been in situations where we've had to make tough calls, and we've had to be courageous at times and we've had to live with the final result from that tough call," Koharski said. "It's going to be role reversal now: It's the public, it's the hockey fan, it's people in general, they're going to be in our shoes for a day or a moment and they're going to have to make what is going to be a tough call for them. For us to make the right call, it's not really that tough. You don't have to be that courageous when it comes to something with drinking responsible but still enjoying the venue that night."