It's official: Sochi selection suits McElman just fine
Andy McElman was at home asleep in Algonquin that mid-November morning when his phone started blowing up.
The text messages of congratulations were coming in from fellow hockey officials from all across North America.
He woke up, saw the flood of messages, but wasn't sure why, what he was being congratulated for. So McElman, who has been a linesman in the National Hockey League since 1993, went to his iPad to check out his email.
There, in an email from an executive at the NHL, he learned that he was one of six linesmen selected for the officiating crew for the 2014 Sochi Olympics. There also were seven from the NHL selected to referee the Sochi Games.
McElman and referee Ian Walsh are the lone Americans representing the NHL in Sochi.
The official announcement from the International Ice Hockey Federation came in early December.
The men's tournament will have a mix of officials from the NHL and international levels.
"All of these candidates are considered to be top officials in their respective club leagues," IIHF officiating manager Konstantin Komissarov said in a statement. "We made our decisions on three main criteria: physical conditioning, performance in their respective national championships, and their ability to work in a team."
There are 28 total officials (14 referees and linesmen each) for the Games.
"It is awesome to get selected. I was pleasantly surprised and excited," said McElman, who added that he does not how the selection happened.
All NHL officials had to submit their passport and credential information before the season started. He did not know who was going to be selected until he learned the news.
"I am really looking forward to it," said McElman, 51, who graduated from Palatine High School in 1979. "It really was pretty wild (being selected)."
The Olympic joy is shared by fellow hockey referee Erin Blair, 32, who graduated from Naperville North High School. She now lives in Bloomingdale, and is a fifth- and sixth-grade health teacher in Carpentersville.
Blair was selected to officiate, as a referee, in the women's hockey tournament in Sochi. She is the lone American female referee, and one of only three overall female officials from the U.S. selected to work in Russia.
"When I learned (about the selection), I was in shock; I actually started crying," said Blair, who was raised in Lisle. "When I first started, I absolutely never thought (about officiating the Olympics). But, particularly over the past four or five years, it really has been my goal, what I've really wanted to do -- to get to the Olympics. That's what has really pushed me over the past five years or so.
"Being the only American referee is pretty cool, especially since there are so many qualified people who could go. To be selected is pretty neat; it's a pretty big honor."
Blair teaches at Lakewood School, and is planning to take a leave of absence for most of February. She has been a hockey official for 14 years and has officiated four women's Frozen Four tournaments (two Division I, two Division III). She also was on the ice for the gold medal game at the Under-18 World Championships in Germany in 2009.
"One of the coolest things so far, since learning of the selection, has been the reaction of my students, which has been outstanding. They are so excited to watch and maybe see me on TV, plus the media coverage already (just around the selection)."
Blair says she hopes to be able to Skype with her students during the Games, and Lakewood is holding a school-wide contest to develop a school pennant. The winning pennant, based on voting from the students, will go to Russia with Blair, she said.
"It's a huge honor that two local officials were selected to officiate the highest (event) in amateur sports," said Jack Raslawski, 46, of Ingleside, who has officiated locally since 1978, is the former referee-in-chief for the Illinois Hockey Officials Association (IHOA) and worked Junior-A games with McElman in the early-1980s.
"I am so proud of them. It's an outstanding opportunity for each."
Blair, who is an IHOA board member, development coordinator and registrar, said: "I love the fact there is someone else going from Illinois."
She wants to watch McElman work in Sochi, and he wants to watch her. Blair also is excited to, if possible, watch ski jumping and luge in person. And she's hopeful she can attend the Opening Ceremony.
McElman said he hopes to attend speed skating in person.
"My all-time favorite Winter Olympics moment, as it is for so many others, was the Miracle On Ice in 1980," said McElman, who was living in Palatine when Mike Eruzione, Jim Craig and the Herb Brooks-coached U.S. Olympic Team shocked the world by winning the gold medal.
"I still remember watching the 1980 Olympics, and it's still amazing how much of an impact that (moment) has had on the hockey world," McElman said.
Neither knows yet when they will leave the U.S., though McElman said it likely will be about Feb. 9, and he likely will be in Russia for about 20 days. Neither is yet sure exactly how many games they will work.
"We all go in with the attitude of making it hard (for the evaluators) to pick who is the best," said McElman, who has never previously been to Russia.
McElman's girlfriend, Kim, will be going for 7 to 10 days. No family or friends will be joining Blair.
"I'm really looking forward to the (Russian) culture, as well as the various cultures of officials," McElman said. "I'm looking forward to an intensity level that I have not experienced before. Sure, the games will be emotional, but the emotions won't hit me until after the game -- that's when it will hit me what it's like to work at that level of hockey."
McElman has officiated more than 1,250 regular-season NHL games, and two playoff games during the 1999-2000 season. He also was on the ice in Los Angeles in 2002 for the NHL All-Star Game.
"This is a huge honor, something I never dreamed would come true," McElman said. "Officiating the Olympics is something you put on the to-do list, and something you long aspire to reach. But rarely do you get to those goals.
"It's going to be awesome; I can't wait."