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West Valley City Journal

Longtime Grizzlies linesman retires after years of skating

Apr 12, 2024 03:25PM ● By Greg James

Jim McKenna has been a professional hockey linesman for 27 years. He retired earlier this month. (Photo courtesy of the Utah Grizzlies)

The Utah Grizzlies and ECHL officials joined to celebrate the career of longtime professional hockey official and local resident Jim McKenna. He retired from hockey officiating after more than 27 years wearing the stripes.

“He started this adventure of professional hockey refereeing in 1997, strangely enough I had been working with him for 15 years before that,” friend and retired on ice official Steve Metcalf said at McKenna’s retirement ceremony. “I worked with him his whole career. I have known the McKenna family since I was 5 years old. He was a great hockey player before he ever became an official.”

McKenna started his career in the glory days of the IHL, which had become the premier minor league hockey league in the country. At the time most NHL players spent time preparing to join the big leagues there. Like the minors in baseball, lower level hockey leagues around the country develop players, on ice and off ice participants with the goal that one day they could step on the ice in front of large crowds cheering for or against them. 

Officials are often the intended target of sometimes unwarranted criticism. The professional game includes 40 players and coaches that may not like each other, but when McKenna is part of the officiating team, “they knew he could be counted upon,” Metcalf said. 

Hockey is a fast game that the officials do their best to keep up. 

“In those days the league wanted us to be in better shape and become better skaters. During an offseason camp the league brought in trainers to work with us. Jimmy and I learned two things, common sense and hydration. That continues today, common sense and hydration. He was involved in many important games,” Metcalf said.

McKenna became one of the most respected officials in the league. He had the opportunity to work in playoff games, important season games and the Olympics. 

“We just wanted to thank Jim for his professionalism and willingness to teach the young guys,” ECHL Senior Vice President of Operations Joe Ernst said.

The brotherhood that comes into officiating crews can be unmatched.

“It is an amazing thing. It has been a long time that I have known Jim,” Utah Grizzlies Vice President Jared Youngman said. “I remember getting on the ice after a game with Jim and the other referees. He is an incredible skater and great hockey player. He loves the game. Jim has done a lot for this game. I can’t say I have not yelled at you on the ice, but I have tried not to.”

McKenna was complimented for his integrity. 

“He is a constant professional and person,” Metcalf said.

Hockey officials spend lots of time away from their family. They travel to summer camps and officiate games on Friday and Saturday nights. 

“Jimmy got me started officiating games. I was 15 years old when I started. He supported me and helped me get from collegiate and junior hockey to professional games. It is hard knowing that I will not have another game with you out here on the ice,” current ECHL on ice official Craig Peterson said.

Admittedly, McKenna did miss a call or two in his time on the ice. During a junior game in overtime a player approached an opponent in the corner. He had his elbow up and headed straight toward contact. 

“Jimmy’s arm shot up and the kid missed the elbow. My team scored on the power play and sent us to the championship game. It was the greatest missed call ever,” current ECHL official Chris McPhee said. “The coaches were giving it to him. Jimmy just said ‘Yep, I know.’ I would ask how I was doing and he’d say, ‘maybe not tonight.’ His honesty helped me get better.”

“I am going to miss coming into the locker room, the banter and friendships that I have made,” McKenna said. “The people in hockey are the absolutely best. I am humbled, my family that has supported me through all of this. My wife, Kim was always there to help me.” λ