.- If you’re a hockey fan and you don’t know who Denny LaRue is, that just means that he has been doing a good job.
While the name might sound familiar to close followers of the game, it’s likely due to his having been a referee in the National Hockey League for more than 20 years now, as opposed to a player or coach who becomes recognized by being in the headlines.
“While we (on-ice officials) don’t get or crave the spotlight, it’s rewarding to know you’ve contributed in a meaningful way,” LaRue says.
Regardless of the sport, being a referee or umpire is a humble choice because it means that one isn’t seeking the limelight. This is consistent with the lesson in the Catholic faith that this life isn’t about us, it’s about God. LaRue feels that officiating is a role for sports enthusiasts to give strong consideration to in place of trying to achieve star status.
“It’s not in the spotlight, per se, but we’re still an important part of the game. I look at people that do what I do and we keep the game safe and fair and contribute to that. Without that the game would suffer and the game wouldn’t be the game. We’re the unbiased protectors of the game.”
He obviously started learning these values and lessons – even the on-ice variety – as a youngster. “I came from a pretty large Catholic family, five kids,” LaRue states. “I went to Catholic grade and high school. I was very active as a youngster – altar boy, Mass almost every day before school.
“I played numerous sports. My father played hockey when he was younger and when we moved to Spokane I had a friend that played hockey and we got involved in it. I was like most kids; we played football, baseball, hockey. I was one of those kids that participated in just about everything I could.”
Now as a father himself LaRue finds himself in the, unfortunately, all too common settings where parents are crossing lines while watching their kids play sports.
“If I’m at a game and my neighbor is yelling at an official, the best person to handle that is me,” he explains. “USA hockey has identified it as a problem and put guidelines in place to where someone can actually be removed from a building, if necessary, so, they’re trying to do things to correct it. It’s incumbent upon people that have kids participating to self-police that.”
So how does it feel to be someone who’s on the receiving end of those boos from fans, not to mention players and coaches hollering at you?
“I think the biggest part is that’s a recognition you make pre-career in that you understand that that goes with the territory and will have to have thick skin,” he says. “You’re not there to make friends. You’re there to do the job well, not to get accolades.”
That said, as long of a career as he has had, LaRue does quickly identify the top highlight from all his years in the NHL that actually could be considered an accolade, since such an assignment is based on merit. “The opportunity to work the Stanley Cup Finals. 2009, Detroit vs. Pittsburgh,” he responds. “I’ve been blessed to have a lot of great moments in my career. It’s what we all strive for.”
He has also gotten the opportunity to work world championship games as well, and says that the experiences made him thankful upon returning back home to the U.S.
“I’ve had the opportunity to travel internationally with my career and personally and I don’t think you can describe how fortunate we are and how grateful we should be for what we have here… I spent three weeks in Russia in 1986. To this day I still remember how bleak it was. Even though they had wonderful things, the architecture, churches, etcetera, it was just bleak. And I’ve never forgotten that.”
With the rigors of traveling just throughout the NHL cities alone, though, come the challenges of getting to Mass on Sundays. LaRue is a veteran, however, so he has worked through it.
“There have been various parts in my career where, we generally stay in metropolitan areas of cities and I’ve often times gone on a Wednesday morning. Because we stay downtown there’s always a church someplace fairly close by. It’s just a question of the rigors of the schedule. If you’re committed to it, the opportunity’s there.”
He closes by noting one of his favorites. “St. Patrick’s cathedral in New York, right there on 5th Avenue. They have multiple Masses throughout the day and I take friends and family there when we go just because the cathedral is amazing. There’s Mass going on there almost any time you go in, and each one is still well-populated. The church itself is a glorious structure and you can sense the history of the place. You can see any number of people any given time in there, with tourists all around while Mass is going on. But everyone is still reverent.”
Those times of worship seem to be complementing his serving the game in his role as an on-ice peacemaker.
Posted with permission from the Catholic Sports Association, an organization dedicated to highlighting Catholic sports professionals and enriching junior high and high school student-athletes with Catholic sports articles, conferences, a Web series, and other programs.