By MIKE DEFABO
The (Crystal Lake) Northwest Herald
CRYSTAL LAKE, Ill. (AP) -- When the final horn sounded at the United Center on April 3, the Blackhawks and Bruins formed a long line at center ice. One by one, Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews and Zdeno Chara and Patrice Bergeron and the rest of the players from both teams took their turn shaking hands with the linesman, Andy McElman.
They shared two messages with the man wearing stripes.
McElman, a 54-year-old Crystal Lake resident, had just officiated his 1,500th NHL game. For that, the players said congratulations. The Blackhawks' 6-4 victory over the Bruins was also McElman's final game in the NHL. For more than two decades of service to the NHL, they said thank you and good luck.
"It went by so fast," McElman said of the moment after the game. "It really shows the level of appreciation in the hockey community that we all enjoy the game, love the game and recognize that we're all a big part of it."
With his career now over, McElman has been asked a lot about his career, giving him reason to reflect. During his first season in 1993, he was working in the old Chicago Stadium. After the game, Darryl Sutter saw McElman in a back stairwell.
"He asked me, `How was it to work the old barn?" McElman remembers. "I think he understood that I was a local product and what it meant to me to skate on that ice."
From that early moment, McElman's career blossomed. He still remembers working his first playoff game when the Dallas Stars hosted the Edmonton Oilers in 2000 and the double-overtime Junior A Nationals game. Several times he reached the pinnacle of his career, when he was selected to work the Blackhawks' outdoor game at Wrigley Field, the 2002 All-Star Game in Los Angles and the Sochi Olympics.
"I had a little bit of a taste of everything it's offered and I've enjoyed all," McElman said. "It's allowed me to travel throughout the world. It's allowed me to experience all kinds of levels of hockey. To accomplish that is really, really a great feeling when you look back at it all."
McElman has shared the ice with some of the world's best athletes (and taken a few errant punches from some of the best enforcers). Some moments, when he saw Wayne Gretzky put up a five-point game or Alex Ovechkin score a goal from his back, McElman allowed himself to appreciate the skill he was witnessing first hand.
"You start to realize you're on the ice with some of the most prolific hockey players in the world," McElman said. "When you see some of the things that they do on skates, with the stick, with the puck, you really take an appreciation of what they do. I do react. I do say, `Wow' or "Holy Cow' or `What a save."'
So now that McElman is retiring, perhaps it's appropriate to do the same and say, "What a career."
"I definitely will miss it," McElman said. "I loved my job. I loved going to work. I loved all the aspects of the job."
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