The New Jersey Devils and Hartford Whalers contest on Jan. 15, 1983, will always be in the NHL’s history books. Because of goal-scoring? Did someone break any kind of record? No, but during the first period of the game, two players didn’t play any hockey. They officiated it.
Referees Ron Fournier and Ron Asselstine traveled from Boston to officiate the game, but they got caught in a snowstorm. The game needed referees, but there was only one linesman, Ron Foyt, at the arena.
His solution was to approach both teams and assess them with an assignment. Both the Devils and Whalers needed one player to step in as linesmen, as Foyt assumed referring duties.
Mickey Volcan of the Whalers, and Garry Howatt of the Devils, had to step in.
“All of a sudden, [Whalers coach] Larry Kish said, ‘We’re going to have a player from each team and you’re going to represent our team,'” Volcan, who could not play that night due to a hand injury, said per NHL.com.
“So we put on some sweats and black practice jerseys and they called us in to the room prior to the game. We sat down and he [Foyt] went through it with us.”
Howatt was an enforcer recovering from a knee injury at the time.
“He [Foyt] told us to stay out of the way,” Howatt said. “I was hoping for a fight to break out so I could get in there. It was interesting.”
Fournier and Asselstine, the referees caught in the snowstorm, eventually made it to the game by the second period. But the two players still had time to see a first-period fight, this time as referees.
Howatt had 242 penalty minutes for the Whalers the previous season, and he felt it was to his advantage when he stepped into the referee outfit.
“They knew what I was like. I got along with them pretty good,” Howatt said. “I knew all those guys because I played with them the year before. I was yapping at them a bit.”
It only lasted one period, but Volcan and Howatt still made history as the only players in NHL history to serve as emergency on-ice officials in an official game.
Volcan was presented with an official’s jersey after the game. Howatt didn’t, and he said the most hilarious thing about it when he talked to NHL.com 10 years ago.
“I should have been able to get my referee’s jersey,” Howatt said. “They didn’t [even] pay me.”