The NHL officiating fraternity lost a great friend and former colleague this past Wednesday when Jim Christison succumbed to complications from heart surgery and passed in a Milwaukee, Oregon hospital.
The Vancouver native suffered from poor health for a number of years.
'Christy' entered the NHL as the 'original' linesman from the City of Vancouver in 1970 - the same season that the expansion Canucks were admitted to the league. Christison worked 1,493 regular season games, 76 playoffs and was selected to officiate one Stanley Cup Final.
Jim Christison 1995
It is always a sad time when death forces us to say goodbye to a loved one, friend and/or colleague. Far too often that final goodbye must only be offered through a private prayer or donation to some worthwhile charity due to a lack of personal contact with the deceased through the years. A pang of guilt that we might feel for not reaching out to a friend or former colleague can best be replaced with fond memories and a celebration of life. Jim leaves behind his wife Linda and their daughters. At Jim's request there was to be no public funeral or memorial service of any kind. His body will be cremated and at his request a small family party will be held. Here's to you my friend - may you rest in peace...
The year was 1972 - Sunday, September 17 to be exact - that I found myself, as a rookie at the NHL officials training camp, in very foreign territory at a staff welcoming reception at the Toronto Airport Hilton. Like all rookies should, I grabbed a soft drink and attempted to make myself invisible with my back against the wall. The NHL referees and linesmen, on the other hand, bellied up to the bar in loud reunion and extended back-slaps and greetings among colleagues following the lengthy off-season. It was easy to determine this group of men were happy to back on the job.
From my safe vantage I was able to determine various pockets of officials that seemed to collect and hung together. The veterans were easiest to pick out, but I noticed that a very select group of 'top dogs' were extremely welcoming to a small gathering of 'young pups' admitted to their group. Veterans Art Skov and Lloyd Gilmour held center court as Bob Meyers, Dave Newell, Ron Hoggarth, Swede Knox, Bob McLaren and Jim Christison were allowed admission to the party. It was easy to tell that these were the 'cool kids' of the group and readily accepted by the two most senior referees. Their group was by far the most boisterous in the room.
It wasn't too long before Christison and Newell broke away from the reunion and joined me at the wall to introduce themselves and welcome me to training camp. While the conversation was fairly brief, their kind gesture went a long way to making this rookie feel welcome. This was especially appreciated since I was so far out of my element. I had finished the previous season as a player - Captain of the Sarnia Bees in the SOHA JR. A league. My formal officiating experience consisted of attending a 5 day referees' school in Haliburton, Ontario where I was scouted and invited to the NHL officials training camp. That school concluded just the 2 days prior to this "Welcome Reception" at the Hilton.
After a few days of on-ice and lengthy classroom sessions another social evening was scheduled by Referee-in-Chief, Scotty Morrison - this time a squash/racquetball tournament at the Skyline Hotel, followed by limited refreshments. After playing my scheduled games in the tournament I joined the group upstairs for one social drink and once again assumed my position against the wall.
As I was about to leave and go back to the hotel I was again approached by Newell and Christison. These members of the 'contact committee' said their group had been observing me over the first few days of Camp and they wanted me to join them for an 'after-party' they were hosting. There was no way I could refuse such a wonderful invitation.
It was a very late but memorable evening. I knew that I was officially welcomed into the 'Cool Gang' a couple of days later when, after an ice session I was standing in the shower with water beating down the front of my body and my hair lathered with shampoo. Suddenly I felt a warm spray on the back of my leg as well? Art Skov was urinating on the back of my leg as Jim Christison shook my hand and told I was officially welcomed into the group. It was in that moment that I learned it was better to be 'pissed on' than 'pissed off'!
I had the honor to work my very first NHL game, October 17, 1980 with 'Christy' and Swede Knox. The Colorado Rockies hosted the Minnesota North Stars in McNichols Arena that night. A new rule was implemented that season to impose a 10 minute misconduct against any player who dropped his gloves during a fight, aside from the two original combatants. Unfortunately for me, the players and the fans in the building were seemingly unaware of the rule. After two early fights, players from both teams who had picked their dance partners were sitting three-deep in the penalty box. Boo's and debris rained down from the seats at the rookie referee they thought was screwing up the game. The game ended and I was happy to get off the ice with this 1st NHL game under my belt.
A large contingent of hostile fans lined up along the chain-link fence on the concourse above the visiting team bus and were waiting for the officiating crew to exit. North Stars players Tim Young and Glen Sharpley were standing outside their bus when the fans from above started hurling insults, challenges and debris my way.
Sharpley called out to Jim Christison that if any backup was needed, we could count on him. Without missing a step 'Christy' turned toward Sharpley and said, "Thanks for the offer 'Sharp' but I think we're better off on our own - I've seen you fight!"
That was the way that Jim Christison handled potentially stressful situations throughout his career; with calmness, a friendly demeanor and quick wit. There was no better way to spend a day off on the road than with 'Sugar Jim' Christison and his longtime sidekick, linesman, Ryan Bozak. Thanks for the wonderful memories boys.
Blessings to Linda and the rest of the Christison family...