Article submitted by Jason Jackson
Vankleek Hill native and NHL linesman Steve Barton officiated his 1000th game with the league last Thursday evening, in Montreal, when the Canadiens took on the Los Angeles Kings. Prior to the game, Barton was honored for reaching this milestone. He was joined by his wife Elizabeth, their sons Lochlan (3) and Cameron (1), as well as Steve’s parents Gary and Jean, and the rest of his extended family.
Barton began officiating when he was 19 years old. At the time, he was playing forward for the inaugural edition of the Vankleek Hill Cougars Junior C hockey club. The Cougars went on to win the league championship that spring. It was during this time that junior referee Dave Leger suggested that Barton look at becoming an official. “At the time I was finishing grade 13 and was going to be attending the University of Guelph in the fall. I started to referee minor hockey games here and then moved on to line junior games Guelph. Because I got into officiating relatively late, I was too green to referee at the higher levels, so lining was the most logical step.” From there Barton’s career took off. From the OHL he worked his way through every minor professional league in North America, spending time in the ECHL, IHL, UHL and finally the AHL. At that point there was really only one place to go. In 2000, at 27 years of age, Barton signed on with the National Hockey League. “Mark Mahon (a childhood friend and professional hockey player) and Kevin Pollock (an NHL referee who came up through the system with Barton) really helped me out along the way. They showed me what the pro game was all about,” said Barton.
The NHL currently employs 38 linesman and 42 referees who officiate 1230 regular season games each year. The top officials are then tapped to work the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Steve has had the honor of officiating 74 postseason matches. Ray Scapinello holds the record for longevity as an NHL linesman, working 2500 games over 33 seasons before he hung up the blades in 2004. 51-year-old Brian Murphy currently holds the mark for most games officiated for active linesmen at 1648. Are those types of numbers in the cards for Barton? “I hope to go as long as I can, but I would say 25 years would be a realistic goal. I’ve got 17 years under my belt already, so we will see,” he said. Barton has a degree in Political Science and also has a love for teaching, so he has options for his life after hockey. He continues to take part-time degree courses to stay current.
Barton’s career could have ended prematurely in his first year. During the 2000-2001 season hockey superstar Mario Lemieux was making a comeback after a three year hiatus. During a Penguin’s game, the young linesman and the megastar got tangled up on a play sending Lemieux crashing to the ice. Thankfully, Lemieux was uninjured and was able to continue on in the play. “My career would have been over for sure if Mario had been hurt,” recounts Barton.
During the off season, Barton likes to stay in shape and work on his golf game. Steve has put on two successful incarnations of the Steve Barton Golf Classic charity golf tournament. The tournament has raised over $45,000 for local charities. “I just wanted a way to give back to the community that has supported me over the years.” The one small criticism you will hear about Barton is that he is fiercely competitive, and occasionally takes out his work frustrations on local beer league officials when he laces up his skates in local pickup games. “I get out with the guys a handful of times a year, and I don’t know what it is but I’m all over the referees. I guess it’s just nice to be on the other side for a change,” said Barton.