Koharski retires after 32 years on ice

Updated: April 10, 2009, 1:35 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

TAMPA, Fla. -- Don Koharski is ready for his next challenge.

The veteran referee completed a 32-year on-ice NHL career in Thursday night's game between the Washington Capitals and the Tampa Bay Lightning.

"I'm ready," Koharski said before the game. "I just finished my last road trip, four games in eight days. At about Day 6 of the road trip, I said, 'Yeah, I made the right decision.' "

The 53-year-old Koharski is expected to join NHL management to work with and recruit on-ice officials.

[+] EnlargeDon Koharski
Scott Audette/NHLI/Getty ImagesDon Koharski, who worked his last game Thursday, is expected to join NHL management to work with and recruit on-ice officials.

"There's some opportunities knocking at the door for me, and I think I can make a difference off the ice," Koharski said. "I just seen a window of opportunity to help our guys that are going to get an opportunity now to take it to the next level. I want to be part of that."

Koharski was involved in an infamous moment during a 1988 playoff series between the New Jersey Devils and Boston Bruins.

Jim Schoenfeld, then coach of the Devils, waited for him in the Meadowlands Arena hallway after the team lost 6-1 in Game 3, and at the top of his lungs, called Koharski a "fat pig" and screamed at him, in front of the cameras, to "have another doughnut."

"The thing is, I don't even eat doughnuts," Koharski said, according to an account in the Montreal Gazette.

The incident triggered a one-game walkout by the league's referees when a court injunction allowed Schoenfeld to coach the next game, despite the NHL's punishment of a one-game suspension.

Schoenfeld is now an assistant general manager and interim assistant coach with the New York Rangers. He long ago apologized to Koharski, and the two have maintained a friendly relationship since.

"I wish Schonie was here tonight," Koharski said. "In Carolina, he called me over and wished me good luck. Schonie is a good guy."

Koharski, who lives in Dade City, Fla., expected his final game to be tough from an emotional standpoint.

"It's been my whole life," Koharski said. "Somebody said to me, if you happen to hear the announcement, 'You have one minute to play in the third period,' what are my thoughts going to be at that time. I said, 'Well, there's one minute left in my on-ice career.' This gruff old guy wears his emotions on his sleeve."

Around 120 family members and friends were in attendance to watch Koharski's final game.

Koharski worked in the World Hockey Association before appearing in his first NHL game as a linesman on Oct. 14, 1977, and since then has worked more than 2,000 regular-season and playoff games. His first contest as a referee was Nov, 18, 1981.

Highlights for Koharski include his first Stanley Cup final and working the 1987 Canada Cup final between Canada and the Soviet Union, in which the Russians asked for him to be the referee.

"I just look at where the world hockey and international hockey is since that day, and realize the best officials are from the National Hockey League," Koharski said. "The world accepted that the best officials are from the National Hockey League and it opened up a lot of doors. I'm pretty proud of that."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.