Luke DeCock

For hockey official, some thanks for a thankless job

Pat Bush spent 20 years completely detached from the game of hockey, which only makes what he’s been able to accomplish since all the more remarkable. He moved to Raleigh from his native Michigan in 1970 after meeting his wife, a North Carolina native, while serving in Germany in the Air Force. He left hockey behind.

Then the minor-league Raleigh IceCaps arrived in 1990, desperate for any locals with hockey knowledge. Bush started helping out at IceCaps games, which led to him getting involved as an official locally. Twenty-six years later, he’s made himself indispensable not only to amateur hockey in the Triangle but the NHL as well, as one of two rotating video goal judges at PNC Arena.

“I keep telling people, I never saw Bobby Clarke play, but I saw him when he came into my booth at the arena, where he wasn’t supposed to be,” Bush said of the Hockey Hall of Famer and former Philadelphia Flyers general manager.

That makes for a good story, but it’s for his work with amateur officials, especially younger ones, that Bush, 68, is this year’s recipient of USA Hockey’s Chet Stewart Award, which recognizes service to officiating education. Bush will be honored at that organization’s annual banquet in Colorado next month.

There isn’t a youth or adult hockey player in the Triangle whose experience on the ice wasn’t improved by Bush’s influence, no matter how indirect. For more than 25 years, he’s been the driving force behind recruiting, training, organizing and encouraging the amateur officials who work house league games (and more recently, for the local college club teams).

If serving as an official at that level of hockey – of any amateur sport – is a thankless job, it’s relatively glamorous compared to the people who talk people into doing that job, train them to do it right and have to replace the most promising younger ones when they inevitably move on to college and careers.

When you’re officiating, you never know who’s watching. You never know who’s there. Most guys don’t look for awards. It’s nice when you get them but you don’t expect them.

Raleigh hockey official Pat Bush

In the Triangle, no one has done more of that than Bush, who until two years ago was the longtime president of the Mid-Atlantic Officials Association, which oversees local amateur officials, in addition to his NHL duties and his frequent appearances as a referee or linesman for Carolina Hurricanes scrimmages.

“Each area is different because of what goes on, but Raleigh is certainly at the top of organizations and areas in terms of that kind of development,” said Jim Dewhirst, USA Hockey’s referee-in-chief for the Southeast Region. “Frankly, the ones that aren’t progressing as fast don’t have someone like Pat. That’s what he lives for, giving everything he’s got to make these guys better.”

Bush retired from Carolina Power and Light after more than three decades as a materials analyst and doesn’t put on the stripes as much as he used to himself – he’s mostly a fill-in now, working on an as-needed basis – but he’s still the one getting on the ice at 6 a.m. to tutor a young official.

“When you’re officiating, you never know who’s watching,” Bush said. “You never know who’s there. Most guys don’t look for awards. It’s nice when you get them but you don’t expect them. ... I just enjoy doing it, enjoy being out there. Even the alumni games for the Hurricanes. It’s fun.”

There’s an inherent sense of loss in the job, too, because Bush’s best proteges often have other career goals in mind. One of his most promising young officials chose to attend the Naval Academy, which put an immediate end to his officiating career.

“That’s the hardest thing: Retention,” Bush said. “We’ve had some good ones. We’ve had six kids go through Hockey Weekend Across America, kids from our association who get to go to the arena (to meet with NHL officials). We’ve got good kids who love to do it. Whether they’ll keep going, who knows?”

Sometimes, all you can do is teach them how to do it right. That’s it’s own reward, although sometimes there’s an award for it, too.

Luke DeCock: ldecock@newsobserver.com, 929-829-8947, @LukeDeCock

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