For the first time in nearly a quarter-century, there isn’t a guy from Colwood named Lonnie Cameron working the lines in National Hockey League games.
“There are so many fond memories,” said Cameron, in his first year of retirement, after 1,554 NHL games as a linesman over 23 NHL seasons.
The most amazing statistic of his career is that Cameron didn’t make it to the NHL until age 32. He worked nine seasons of junior in the Western Hockey League before he finally got the call that would change his life in the summer of 1996.
“Patience and persistence paid off,” said the 55-year-old.
“I wasn’t 25 or 26.”
Not that he hadn’t earned the call to the big league. Cameron started working the lines as a 12-year-old in the Juan de Fuca Minor Hockey Association and went on to line two Memorial Cup national junior tournaments, including the championship games in 1992 and 1995, and also the 1994 Lillehammer Winter Olympics. The latter is a role he would reprise as an NHL linesman at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics.
Cameron is part of an Island officiating tradition that includes former NHL referees Lloyd Gilmour of Nanaimo, Rob Shick of Port Alberni and Malcom Ashford of Victoria.
It was after a career as a goaltender — from Juan de Fuca to Racquet Club of Victoria to the Estevan Bruins of the Saskatchewan Junior League — that Cameron turned to his other passion in the game.
“I got traded as a 20-year-old from Estevan to Lloydminster, then Yorkton, and said to myself: ‘My goaltending career is done,’ ” he said.
The Dunsmuir Secondary graduate (the school went to Grade 12 back then) then enrolled variously at UVic and Camosun and chuckled that he got “half a degree.”
“I put all my eggs in the hockey basket,” Cameron said.
Particularly the painted parts of the ice involving the lines.
It led to a moment he can recite right off the top of his head — his first NHL game was Oct. 5, 1996, Calgary Flames at Vancouver Canucks. It was the first of many. Cameron became the NHL Ironman linesman, never missing a game in his 1,500-plus.
“I did my first NHL playoff game five seasons later, which is another career highlight,” said Cameron.
So is working the NHL all-star game. Not to mention being presented with the game puck by the Canucks and having every player on the team come up and shake his hand following his final game last spring at Rogers Arena as sons Brayden and Logan Cameron came onto the ice to hug their dad.
There might be one career omission: “I never did a Stanley Cup final, but that’s OK.”
Cameron, however, did get the call for the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics.
“The Russians were so wound up in their own backyard because Putin had spent $50 billion and they fell short [Canada, with forward Jamie Benn of Central Saanich, won men’s hockey gold],” he said.
“I was also proud to work Lillehammer in 1994, which was the last amateur hockey Olympics before NHLers were allowed to play,” said Cameron.
The Island product, who now resides in Langley, said he never regretted not being a referee.
“Being a linesman was the quickest route for me into the NHL at an older age,” said Cameron.
“And I was always happy to be on the lines. The spotlight is on the referees, but linesman are also integral factors in controlling a game.”
Cameron keeps his hand in the sport by working the occasional Vancouver Giants WHL home game as a goal judge. The father of two also gives advice to any budding young officials who want it. That includes his 19-year-old son, Brayden, who carries on the family tradition by officiating minor hockey games up to the midget triple-A level.
As for dad, Lonnie Cameron says he will always be proud to be “that kid from Colwood who went on to work more than 1,500 games in the NHL.”
Cameron began later than most in the Show. But the guy from the Island, who wore No. 74 in the stripes, ended with an NHL legacy worth celebrating.