A shout-out to the man affectionately known as 'Shicker'
The text message was from an NHL general manager. Rob Shick's cell phone had reached its limit in voice mails, and the team executive was frustrated he couldn't leave one for the man affectionately known as "Shicker."
"Fitting, right? One last profanity-laced message from a GM," Shick, laughing, told ESPN.com this week. "But he was just joking. A lot of people reached out to me last weekend, and that was really nice. I wasn't expecting it."
No, the humble referee would have been just fine had his last NHL game on Saturday, the Wild-Kings tilt in Los Angeles, attracted no fanfare. But once word got around late last week that Shick was working his 1,321st and last NHL regular-season game, the phone calls came flooding in from players, coaches, officials and various hockey people.
"People don't cheer for you; you go through the job with no emotion," Shick said. "I understand that. That's what you do when you're an official in sports. We are literally a necessary evil. But when I got on the ice last Saturday, people were cheering, one guy had a sign up that said, 'You'll be missed Rob' and the Kings did a nice thing on the clock between periods. The crowd got up and kind of gave me an ovation, and the players and the coaches were banging the sticks. That was really rewarding from my end. I never really expected anything like that.
"After the game, the whole L.A. Kings team came over and shook my hand. It was a real humbling and surreal experience that I'll never forget."
Shick, who has lived in Temecula, Calif., for more than a decade, had 22 people in a suite at the game, many of them from his native Canada.
"I was born and raised in Port Alberni, B.C., which is the salmon capital of the world, by the way," Shick said with a laugh. "Rod Brind'Amour says it's Campbell River [British Columbia] or Willie Mitchell says it's Port Hardy [B.C.], but I want to set the record straight that Port Alberni is the salmon capital of the world. We have these discussions on the ice all the time. I said to Willie Mitchell, 'Come to Port Alberni, and I'll show you how to fish.'"
That sense of humor has served Shick well in his banter with players and coaches in a NHL career that began in April 1986. He has had a blast but, at 52, decided it was time.
"People say, 'Why are you retiring?' and I say, 'It's time for me to become a father instead of a dad,'" Shick said. "I've been travelling for 20-some years, I've got four children and a beautiful wife. When you're on the road 20 days a month, you miss a lot."
Shick has a 15-year-old daughter and three sons ages 13, 12 and 10. His wife, a physician in Newport Beach, helps care for breast cancer patients.
"I'm very blessed, and my wife is a beautiful person and does a wonderful job," Shick said. "I deal in wins and losses, and she deals in life and death."
We asked for anecdotes, but he doesn't even know where to start. So many stories to tell.
"I remember some cool games, like when I had to hand the puck over to the queen [of England] in Vancouver. She said, 'Do you need it back?'" Shick said with his best British accent. "I said, 'Oh no, you keep it, we've got lots.'"
So what now for Mr. Shick? For the rest of the season, he'll help scout young officials for the NHL at the junior and ECHL levels and also work with AHL officials under contract with the NHL. He's also in talks with the league to continue similar work going forward next season.
He has no regrets. He's had so much fun, but it's time to move on.
"I feel like I've left nothing on the table," Shick said.