Bill McCreary's 28th and final NHL season, fittingly, will include a prestigious Olympic assignment in February, which is a deserved honor for one of the game's great men in stripes.
Since there are no NHL playoff games on his docket in his swan song season (the norm of late with retiring referees), the Olympic nod will be his last big-time endeavor in a career chock full of them.
"I was very surprised when I got the call from [NHL director of officiating] Terry Gregson," McCreary told ESPN.com on Monday shortly after the International Ice Hockey Federation announced the Olympic on-ice officials. "To have my third Olympics, it's just such a great honor."
The 54-year-old McCreary, among the most respected refs in the league, will be among the seven NHL referees (also seven from the IIHF) working the Games in Vancouver, along with six NHL linesmen (eight from the IIHF). Click here for the full list.
McCreary worked the first two NHL Olympics in 1998 and 2002, doing both gold-medal games.
"I also worked the shootout [semifinal] game between Canada and the Czechs and with [Wayne] Gretzky sitting on the bench," said McCreary. "A lot of things run through your mind that you remember very well."
The 2002 gold-medal game in Salt Lake City was also a special memory. Emotions were still raw after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, but host United States was unable to deliver gold in a 5-2 loss to an inspired Canadian team.
"Those were the same players I saw every night in my regular job. But the heightened anxiety of country versus country, Canada playing on U.S. soil, that really stands out in my career to have worked that hockey game," said McCreary. "And when 11 U.S. players came over and shook my hand, unsolicited, after the game, that was really rewarding to me."
Rewarding because, as a Canadian referee, it was the ultimate sign of respect. He had obviously not let his passport interfere with his job.
Now comes Vancouver. McCreary chuckled at the thought of how crazy it will be to have an Olympic tournament in hockey-mad Canada with the NHL's finest battling for gold. "It's going to be something else," he said.
In the meantime, the native of Guelph, Ontario (where he still lives), has been soaking in all the little moments during his final NHL season. Dan Marouelli and Kerry Fraser are also working their final seasons.
"It's been a lot of fun.. I'm probably breaking a few rules as I go along," McCreary said with a laugh. "I do a few little things on the ice that people probably wouldn't recognize."
Last Friday night in Montreal, he made sure to take in every minute of the heart-stopping ceremony marking the Canadiens' 100th anniversary.
"I sat in the penalty box in my dress suit until 10 minutes to 8 o'clock and watched everything," said McCreary, who has worked the most NHL playoff games in history. "I had to do a real quick change to get my referee gear on. Nobody knows I didn't wear my microphone for the first period. And Gary [Bettman] was sitting there [laughs]."
So what's next after this? He's open to a few ideas. It might involve mentoring young referees in some capacity. His last game will be April 3, Boston at Toronto.
"It's a Saturday night," he said. "I'm not looking for a ceremony or anything. Maybe they'll make an announcement that I'm being put out to pasture."