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Turns out, Bill McCreary isn't being put out to pasture just yet.
As I wrote about earlier this season, http://espn.go.com/nhl/blog?name=lebrun_pierre&id=4722713, this was originally supposed to be the referee's 28th and final NHL season wearing the stripes, but the NHL had a change of heart.The NHL on Tuesday issued a release announcing the retirement of referees Kerry Fraser and Dan Marouelli and linesmen Mark Paré and Lyle Seitz at season's end, but there was no mention of McCreary. That's because the 54-year-old referee, one of the most highly regarded officials in the game, was approached by the NHL's director of officiating, Terry Gregson, about staying on for one more season.
"Terry approached my wife and I a little while ago to consider it," McCreary told ESPN.com on Tuesday. "We talked at great lengths about it. We decided that hopefully I could get this old body in shape one more year and we would go forward with another season."
McCreary said he never saw it coming.
"We were prepared mentally for this to be it. We were shocked when Terry approached us," he said. "It's a big honor."
Gregson explained his change of heart like a GM building a hockey team.
"I felt that Bill was still clicking on all cylinders and I felt that maybe bringing up three guys from the minor leagues next year might be a stretch," Gregson told ESPN.com on Tuesday. "You bring somebody up, there's no going back. So I just felt more comfortable with keeping Bill on the staff for another year with his experience, being able to mentor, and bringing up two guys [to replace Fraser and Marouelli] instead of three.
"It's really like a hockey-team decision; you decide you want to keep a veteran around a bit longer and not force a young guy into a position he wasn't quite ready for."
Personally, I think it's a smart call on Gregson's part. The NHL has lost a lot of experience over the past few years, Fraser and Marouelli join Don Koharski and Rob Shick into retirement from last season. Let's slow this down a little.
Officially, McCreary has until Aug. 1 to inform the league whether he'll return next season. He's leaning toward coming back.
"We're excited," he said. "My daughter is going to be 20 years old and she's just a hockey nut. And my wife is very supportive. We're hoping it all works out. There could be a few snags, but it looks like a go."
This past Saturday in Toronto was originally scheduled to be McCreary's swan song.
"That was the scheduled last game," said McCreary. "But we just carried on, the new set of assignments came out and I've got four games this week.''
And no doubt some big playoff games loom on his docket, as well. He's already worked one heck of a memorable game, Canada's thrilling 3-2 overtime win over the United States in the 2010 Olympic gold-medal game.
"The surrounding atmosphere of the whole Olympics, just being out on the streets and the people, it was tremendous," said McCreary. "And to be in the actual [gold-medal] game itself, that was incredible.
"You have to give a lot of credit to the players that day and how they played the game. There was no intent to injure at any time. They body-checked, but they stayed within the parameters. I think we had 4-5 penalties in the whole game, and it was just one hell of a hockey game."