*******Catch the interview HERE: http://soundcloud.com/josh-statham/sutherland***************
Kelly Sutherland’s NHL dream started at a young age, following his father Stan to rinks around the lower mainland as the elder Sutherland officiated minor hockey games. At 18 Kelly traded his gloves and stick for whistles and stripes and never looked back.
As a rookie referee Kelly was thrust in to the heat of an age old BCHL rivalry. It was truly baptism by fire as he became the ringmaster of a late season affair in Chilliwack between the Chiefs, coached by former NHLer Eddie Beers and his hometown team the Merritt Centennials.
“It just happened to be I was this young guy showing up and it was late in the year and there were no other referees.” Sutherland sets the stage for the story of his BCHL debut. “They were expecting some real problems that night because those teams had been in a few serious brawls. When I showed up everyone was wondering, ‘Who’s this new guy?’ I remember one of the linesmen telling them ‘Oh no he’s some guy from the OHL they brought in because they’re expecting real problems.’” You can still hear the relief in his voice when he concludes, “That game went on without a hitch, I don’t even think we had a fight.”
“That was actually my favourite building to work. Even to this day there are very few arenas that I remember ever coming up through in the minors or anything that have that character, and it was just a great environment. It was real intimidating to go in there, the fans were crazy, just a real fun enjoyable place to work. If you couldn’t get up for a game there you had some real problems.”
“When you had them on your assignments that was one where you were really looking forward to it.”
Kelly split time in his first season between the BCHL and WHL and quite quickly ended up joining the pro ranks coming up through the AHL and now defunct IHL.
“There were times we were doing 20 games a month.” Says Kelly of life in the minors.
Kelly’s time on the greyhounds of the semi-pro circuit wasn’t long, he was first invited to NHL training camp at just 24, and in 1999 he found himself officiating the World Junior Championship in Sweden.
“We had an experience in Surrey with the bigger ice. I was prepared when I went over there.” Kelly says of his international experience. “On the bigger ice surface there’s a lot less contact.”
Soon after calling the WJC Kelly got the call to the show. In 2000 he earned a full time contract with the NHL. As was the case in junior his NHL debut was both spur of the moment and memorable being forced in to relief action in a game in Buffalo after linesman Scott Driscoll was injured. As Kelly was about to step on to the ice to lines for the first time in years on the biggest stage in the world a fan mistook him for veteran NHL official Kerry Fraser and screamed at him, “Fraser, you suck!”
Kelly has now been officiating in the NHL for over a decade. He was recently voted by NHL players to be the best in the business. Head of Officiating Terry Gregson is also in his corner as Kelly has been chosen to work each of the last two Stanley Cup Finals.
“There’s really nothing like the playoffs. It’s just a great adrenaline rush.” Kelly exclaims. “The pressure is obviously higher. That’s kind of what drives you, the high pressure, and being involved in the big game.”
“Most nights you’re the only game on so everybody in the hockey world is watching you and that pressure is really what drives me.”
Kelly reflects fondly on his days in the BCHL watching stars like Paul Kariya hone their skills all the while he too was learning his craft.
“As you moved up to the pros and to the NHL those are still some of the toughest games; it was tough but that’s what you wanted to learn, that’s what you wanted to experience as you moved up in your career.”
“It’d go crazy in a flash on you. That’s probably my fondest memories of the league.”
“Junior hockey is such a great training ground. Any night anything could happen”