Hall of Famer Ashley dies; worked more than 650 NHL games

Updated: January 7, 2008, 10:49 PM ET
Associated Press

KITCHENER, Ontario -- Hockey Hall of Fame referee John Ashley, who worked more than 650 NHL games in a career that began nearly 50 years ago, has died. He was 77.

Ashley died of heart failure Saturday at St. Mary's Hospital in Kitchener. Funeral services will be held Wednesday, the Erb & Good Family Funeral Home in Waterloo, Ontario, said.

Ashley was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1981, following 18 years in the NHL -- 13 as a referee and five as a scout and adviser to officials. He refereed 622 NHL regular-season games and 58 in the playoffs during his career. From 1964-72, he worked every postseason Game 7.

"My dad's commentary was, 'if they're watching me, they're missing one hell of a good game,'" Ashley's daughter, Kristine Bailey, said. "I think I heard him say that hundreds of times.

"Most people don't like officials. You either love them or hate them. He used to just laugh it off and say it's a part of the game."

Ashley started his hockey career as a player with the Toronto Marlies and Guelph Biltmores on the junior A circuit, before stints with Pittsburgh and Syracuse of the American Hockey League.

Though he was a talented player, Ashley saw a future in officiating and signed his first contract in 1959. After starting in the minors, he was soon promoted to the NHL and established himself as one of the most reliable referees.

"I never hesitated putting him into any key game under any situation," former NHL referee-in-chief Scotty Morrison said in the Cambridge Sports Hall of Fame induction program.

When Ashley left the ice, he remained with the NHL as a talent scout for officials. About a decade later, he was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, an honor bestowed to just 14 officials to date.

"When you're in the Hall of Fame, you are a hockey icon, and by losing John, we lost a good one there," said former NHL linesman Ron Asseltine, a friend of Ashley's. "He was a credit to the game and a good guy."

His daughter Kristine remembered a time her father asked an usher to keep an eye on her while he worked.

"He would say, 'Watch the game, cheer for everybody and don't tell anybody who you are,'" she said. "He was always objective. He liked to watch a good hockey game. He never cared who won or lost. That wasn't his job. He really had a good appreciation for players and officials who were talented."

Ashley is survived by his wife, June, to whom he was married for 56 years, daughter Kristine, and son Tom.


Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press