Few hockey fans will forget long-serving linesman Ray Scapinello dart down the ice retrieving an iced puck or standing on the toes of his skates to intercede between two scrapping behemoths.
Born in Glen Christie, Ontario in 1946, Raymond Angelo Joseph Scapinello played minor hockey in Hespeler, Ontario, now part of Cambridge. A fine hockey player, he played Senior hockey with the Guelph Regals. But while pursuing a playing career, Mel McPhee (later to become colleague Bill McCreary's father-in-law) convinced Ray to consider a career as an official.
Scapinello joined the Guelph Referees' Association in the late 1960's, and officiated amateur and junior leagues. After attending Bruce Hood's officiating school in 1968, Ray officiated in an outlaw Junior League as well as the Ontario Hockey Association (OHA), where he was noticed by NHL officials Frank Udvari and Scotty Morrison. Although Scapinello was invited to the NHL Officials' camp in 1970, he wasn't hired. But undeterred, he returned to the camp a year later and this time, was invited to the NHL rookie camp.
While holding down a full-time job in Guelph during the week, Ray officiated American Hockey League (AHL) games on weekends. This situation remained until Ray was hired as a National Hockey League official for the start of the 1971-72 season.
Ray's first NHL game was in Buffalo, New York on October 17, 1971, with the hometown Sabres being challenged by the Minnesota North Stars. Never dreaming that his officiating career would last so long, Scapinello's final NHL game returned to the spot where it had begun. On April 2, 2004, in a game featuring the visiting Toronto Maple Leafs taking on the hometown Buffalo Sabres, Ray officiated his 2,500th, and final, NHL contest. He was 57 years of age. Through thirty-three years as an NHL official, Scapinello never missed an assignment, and on twenty occasions, was selected as the best linesman in the business.
In addition to his landmark regular season contests, Ray also officiated 426 Stanley Cup playoff games, including twenty years in the Stanley Cup Finals. He also was a linesman in three NHL All-Star Games and was one of the officials hand-selected to work at the 1998 Winter Olympic Games in Nagano, Japan.
His small stature (5'7" and 165 pounds) and lightning-quick speed made Scapinello stand out among his peers, not to mention his lack of head protection. Ray joined the NHL before helmets were made mandatory for officials, and as a result, he was able to go without the helmet during games. Yet, in what is regarded as his most proud accomplishment, Scapinello went through the course of his entire outstanding career never missing a single game to injury or illness.
Always one to stay fit, Ray amazed his colleagues during training camp by juggling and riding a unicycle. Considered a real character, he was always highly regarded by his peers.
Giving back was always important to Ray, who started the Ray Scapinello Foundation in 2006 to help Guelph-area students pay for their post-secondary education. The Ray Scapinello Road Hockey Tournament is held annually to raise funding for local charities.
Since his retirement, Scapinello has been a supervisor for Central Hockey League, and has written a best-selling book about his storied career. 'Between the Lines: Not-So-Tall Tales From Ray 'Scampy' Scapinello's Four Decades in the NHL' was published in 2006. In 2008, Ray Scapinello's work as an NHL official was recognized with his induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame in the Officials Category.