Linesman Vaughan Rody celebrates 1,000th NHL game in Winnipeg

Linesman Vaughan Rody celebrates 1,000th NHL game in Winnipeg

Vaughan Rody's father stopped talking to him when he found out his son was going to quit "a good union job" with the City of Winnipeg to chase his dream of becoming an NHL referee.

It's a dream that paid off — Rody celebrates his 1,000th career NHL game Monday night at Bell MTS Place as an NHL linesman — but the first big step was leaving Winnipeg for a low-paying job with the WHL in Seattle.

"When I told my dad … I think he wanted to put me up for adoption," Rody said, mostly joking.

He was packed up and ready to move to Seattle when he saw his dad walking down the back lane toward him.

"I didn't know if I was going to get hell or hello," Rody said. "He hadn't talked to me in about a day and a half."

But his dad handed him an envelope with a note inside, showing he'd paid off Rody's $1,800 credit card balance, and $1,000 cash for his first month's rent.

"He was like, 'That's all I can do, Sunshine. That's all I can do. So you do the best you can and don't let us down.' And that's how I left Winnipeg to go and chase this dream."

While Rody's 1,000th game was technically near the end of last season, he wanted to celebrate in his hometown with his family and friends, which he did on Sunday before the game Monday.

Rody's dad died six years ago, but there will be a special place for him at Monday's game.

"My dad used to wear this grey fedora. I bought 38 tickets, and 37 people we invited … and the one ticket that I don't want anybody sitting in that seat is my dad's. I'm going to go down there, just me and his hat a little earlier before the game," he said. 

"I'm going to make sure his hat is sitting where I can see it when I'm on the ice."

Rody's dad did live to see him achieve his dream of working in NHL and witness him taking the ice with hockey's greatest superstars — a completely surreal experience when he first started, Rody said.

"I remember skating around here and thinking 'Oh my God, here's these guys that I used to watch on TV and I'm on the ice with them. This is incredible.' And about 35 seconds into the game, Anaheim shot the puck down the ice, and I skated down the ice, and I didn't call icing," he said. 

"And Chris Pronger was chasing me, and he was yelling at me, 'That's icing in this league, for Christ's sakes!' And he was just screaming at me, and I'm thinking 'Holy Jesus, there's this giant six-foot-four guy yelling his head off at me.'

"I realized in a hurry that we were no longer in the Western Hockey League anymore."

His favourite moment probably came during his second game in the NHL, he said.

"Colorado was playing Vancouver. At the time, Mark Messier was playing for Vancouver, and Joe Sakic was playing for Colorado. I'm standing there at the faceoff and here are these two guys. Growing up, I had both of their posters on their wall. 

"So here we are, I'm bending down to take this faceoff, and Messier taps me with his stick on my knee, and he goes, 'Hey man, you're new, eh?' And I go, 'Yeah, I'm new.' 

"And he goes 'Hey, well, welcome to the family. My name's Mark.' And I'm like, 'Mr. Messier, I know exactly who you are.' And Joe's like, 'Hey, congratulations.' 

"It was kind of a surreal moment."

Like many young Canadian boys, Rody's first goal was to someday play in the NHL. But as he got older, he learned that was not meant to be.

To make some extra money, he started refereeing kids' hockey games and then moved into the MMJHL. From there, he tried out to be an official in the WHL and travelled to Brandon to officiate on a part-time basis.

But in order to move up to the NHL, he had to land a full-time job with the WHL, which is why he moved to Seattle. 

"The WHL didn't pay very well," said Rody. "I got a job at Boeing, and I would work from 5:18 in the morning, and 1:18 in the afternoon, and my shift would end, and I would jump in my car, grab a sub sandwich, and … drive, say, three hours, 3½ hours to get to Portland that afternoon. I would get there at 6 p.m., I would ref the game, and be home right around midnight, get three or four hours of sleep and get up and go back to Boeing."

When he was offered a job in the NHL, he cried.

"I put the phone down, and it was so emotional, and I kind of remembered chasing this dream and having my dad not talk to me because he was angry, and it was the first phone call [I made]. I couldn't wait to pick it up and phone him and tell him that we finally made this dream a reality.

"I had been telling him the last couple years leading up to it, I said 'Dad, we're gonna chase 'em down one day, Dad. One day they're going to trip, and we're going to catch 'em.' And he was always saying, 'Yeah, OK, one day they'll trip, one day we'll get 'em.'"

When Rody called about the new job, his dad was driving with his mother.

"I said, 'They tripped up today, Dad. They tripped up today, and we caught 'em today, Dad.' 

"Even to this day, it's a little emotional for me, but it was pretty emotional for my Dad, too. He handed the phone to my mom and said, 'I can't talk to you right now buddy, but I want you to know that I'm so proud of you.'"