It all started in 1993. Then working as a referee doing men’s league games at a skating rink in Lighthouse Point, Ron Young was approached to be an off-ice official and work NHL games for the newly created Florida Panthers at Miami Arena.
Young hopped at the chance to work in the NHL and today is one of three original hires still doing the games in Sunrise.
On Saturday, Young’s 20-year run with the NHL and the Panthers comes to a close. Young has decided to move back to Toronto full-time.
Since retiring from his job in the transportation sector, Young shuttled between South Florida and Canada to see his three grandsons, but those long commutes are about to come to a close.
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As is Young’s up-close view of the NHL. He doesn’t expect to find this kind of work in hockey-mad Toronto; although, he’s hopeful. Before the NHL came calling in 1993, he never thought he would have been doing this either.
“These have been some great times, and it has been fun to be part of it,’’ said Young, who as crew supervisor and game timekeeper works at center ice directly between the two penalty boxes at BB&T Center.
“For 41 nights a year, I’ve just loved coming to work. To be able to watch the game at this level has been terrific. But there’s not much turnover for these jobs in Canada. They are gold. You are in it until they carry you out basically. But you never know. Someone may retire. It would be a dream come true if I could continue on.’’
When the Panthers are in town, so is Young. He spends his game mornings at the arena in a spot down near the Zamboni tunnel drinking his home brewed Tim Hortons’ coffee and catching up on the latest hockey news on his iPad.
Players and coaches from the Panthers as well as the visiting teams always skate by to say hello, Young’s faded Toronto Blue Jays cap as recognizable as his goatee.
When Young started this part of his career, he was working in the transportation business and was living in Cooper City. His job offered the perks of many frequent flier miles; although, Young says they went fast.
In his time with the Panthers, Young has seen some bad hockey but also worked every playoff game in franchise history. He also had the honor of working Game 7 of the 2004 Stanley Cup Finals when the Lightning brought the Cup to the Sunshine State to stay for the first time.
Now he has two games left. With his three grandsons all playing youth hockey, however, he’ll remain close to the game he loves.
“It’s a little bittersweet because I’ve been here 20 years,’’ he said while watching the Flyers skate on Tuesday morning. “Hockey to me is a passion. I’m going to miss it, miss the people I interact with on a nightly basis. But I’m looking forward to revisiting a time when my son played, the 6 a.m. practices sitting in the stands with a cup of Tim Hortons watching them play.
“And I’ll have the Center Ice [TV] package so I’ll be watching the Panthers every night anyway.’’
Roberto Luongo said he felt better on Wednesday after missing Tuesday’s 5-2 loss to the Flyers. He said he felt sore after warm-ups.
“We’ll take morning skate [Thursday] and see where it goes,’’ Luongo told reporters. “Hopefully, I’ll be back in.’’
Backup Dan Ellis said Luongo indicated during the day that he might not be able to go, so Ellis had some warning that he may have to fill in.
Ellis is still searching for his first win since coming to the Panthers in the Tim Thomas deal on March 5. Ellis is 0-5 with Florida with a 4.81 goals-against average and has made only 84 percent of his saves.
• Luongo said he and former Vancouver general manager Mike Gillis had a good relationship. Gillis was fired on Tuesday just over a month after trading Luongo to the Panthers on March 4. The Luongo trade came after Gillis sent Cory Schneider to New Jersey last June.
Gillis’ failed trades – some which came with the Panthers – is said to have hastened his departure from the Canucks. Vancouver will miss the playoffs for the first time in six years.
“It’s tough, Mike was put in a tough spot there,’’ Luongo said. “When the team doesn’t have success and misses the playoffs, someone usually tends to pay the price. Unfortunately, it was Mike.’’