MANSFIELD - The odometer on Ryan Daisy’s 2007 Ford clicked over to 200,000 a few weeks ago when he had just crossed the border into Massachusetts, heading home to Mansfield.
Ask Daisy for a roster of restaurants that serve a home-cooked meal or establishments with late-night hours and he can rattle off more than a handful. Twenty-four hour gas stations, cold arenas and screaming fans, the differing styles of play between the USHL, the ECHL and the AHL — Daisy has an answer for them all.
“It’s been a long six years of pounding pavement, a lot of roads, a lot of miles,” said Daisy, who is newly minted as an NHL linesman for the upcoming 2016-17 season.
“It’s every kid’s dream to one day play in the NHL. I knew in my teenage years that dream was not going to come true.”
Now, it is Daisy who is wearing the striped shirt — in the NHL, no less.
The 28-year-old Daisy was one of four officials appointed to assignments at NHL arenas next season. Last season, the NHL saw the retirements of referees Rob Martell, Greg Kimmerly and Dennis LaRue, along with linesmen Mike Cvik, Brad Lazarowich and Andy McElman.
Daisy is a product of the USA Hockey Officiating Development Program.
As a senior at Catholic Memorial High School, Daisy decided to take his passion for the game onto the ice as a man in stripes.
“It was a great opportunity to get some extra ice time while earning some spending money for gas in the car,” he said.
Daisy studied the official’s rulebook and received his official crest after his Qualters Middle School coach Ken Tucker suggested he give refereeing a whirl. Daisy then began working under the umbrella of Gene Binda, the supervisor of officials.
Daisy began officiating at squirt, bantam and select games at the Foxboro Sports Center and every rink with a Zamboni in the Commonwealth in Saturdays and Sundays, often three or four games a day.
After having half a season under his belt, Daisy was assigned some higher-level select games to put him to the test. Later that week, he received a phone call from Gene Binda.
“Kid, you’re going to skate in the National Hockey League one day,” said Binda.
Those were the only words that the 6-foot-5 Daisy remembers about the phone call and it has been his dream ever since.
“I had size, I was athletic, I came from a hockey background and I could skate,” said Daisy. “For me, it was wanting to stay on the ice, to stay a part of the game.
“I wanted, for the love of the game, to stay part of it.”
Daisy attended college at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Conn., as he continued to skate at rinks around the Nutmeg State and southern New England working as a referee at games of every youth level, including Connecticut high school games. Along the way, Daisy received positive reinforcement from other officials and his high grades from the governing board.
When Daisy appeared at a Connecticut rink during his junior year to take his off-and-on ice testing, he arrived wearing his CM jacket.
“I walk in and there’s this guy wearing a BC High jacket taking the test too.”
That day, Daisy’s friendship was kindled with Kevin Curtis of Canton, who was attending Fairfield University at the time.
Prior to his senior year at Sacred Heart, AJHL supervisor of officials Chris Allman had invited him to a seminar and camp in Cromwell, Conn.
“I had an excellent meeting with Chris and he said that he wanted me to be a linesman in his league,” said Daisy. “My senior year, I had very limited time with my college friends on the weekends because I was traveling all the time.”
His parents, Bill and Denise, were almost flabbergasted when he suggested that furthering his finance degree from Sacred Heart University with a professional position might be put on hold so that he continue to skate and be around the hockey rink.
“We sat down and listened to Ryan and what his passion and dreams were going forward and they definitely weren’t the same as ours,” recalled his mom, Denise.
Daisy is one of four siblings, along with sisters Kristen and Kathryn and younger brother Patrick.
“Ryan wanted to pursue his dream as a linesman, that was his goal,” said Denise. “As a parent, you just don’t say, ‘Sure, run off after four years of college. Do what you want, we’ll support you.‘ Are you kidding me?. How are you going to live? The grueling driving state to state, the pay. Most of all, what are his chances of reaching the NH?, I said to myself.”
For two years, Daisy officiated games in the USHL, the tier-one junior hockey program in the U.S., often considered to be the feeder system for many an NCAA Division I and II program. Daisy was stationed in Omaha, Neb., for one year, then moved to Des Moines, Iowa, for his second season.
“I did a lot of driving across the Midwest,” said Daisy was was then promoted to the ECHL where he served for three years under Joe Ernst, the director of officials.
Daisy was rewarded by working by ECHL Championship series Kelly Cup Finals for all three of his winter seasons.
In the meantime, Daisy had also “gotten my feet wet” by working in some 30 AHL games one year and close to that the next season as well.
“After my second year with the USHL,’ he recalled, “they (NHL) asked me to come to Chicago to skate my first AHL games. It was kind of intimidating to be working at that level.
“For my first AHL game, the NHL had their supervisors in attendance to watch and evaluate my performance. They came down to our locker room postgame to give their supervision. The supervision went well and from that point on, I was determined to make my dream become a reality.”
The USA Hockey Officiating Program operates in conjunction with the USA Hockey Junior Hockey Challenge (men’s) and the USA Hockey Women’s Festival in Lake Placid, N.Y. The USA Hockey Elite officiating experience is designed to expose and train officials for national and international competition in order to establish an officiating path that complements growth and to identify potential NHL and international candidates.
Last summer, Daisy was invited to the NHL Exposure Combine in Buffalo, undergoing three days of on-and-off ice testing.
“They asked me what my plans were for the upcoming season,” said Daisy. “After talking with my family and some mentors, we collectively agreed that I move to Chicago for the 2015-16 season (to work full time in the AHL). We felt that it would be in my best interest to advance my career.”
As it turned out, Daisy was selected for the AHL Calder Cup championship series, won by Lake Erie — having officiated at USHL and ECHL championship series as well.
“They have some very good steak restaurants in the Midwest,” grinned Daisy. “It’s a grind going from one city to the next, night after night. I remember my first year in Omaha, there was such a blizzard that they shut down the interstate — the snow banks were six to eight feet.”
Daisy was one of six linesmen selected in the pool of officials for the American Hockey League’s championship series, the Calder Cup Final. He worked alongside AHL/NHL linesmen Shandor Alphonso, Devin Berg, Brandon Gawryletz, and John Grandt. Now, he gets to join that group of 40/40 linesmen, splitting time between the AHL and NHL for 2016-17.
Internationally, Daisy represented the U.S. at the 2015 IIHF Under-18 Tournament in Belarus. He was also selected to officiate the 2013 CCM/USA Hockey All-American Prospects Game.
Daisys’ father, Bill, had him on skates as soon as he could walk, learning to skate at the Aleixo Arena in Taunton. Then it was on to the progression of youth hockey teams, pee-wees, squirts, bantams and midgets. Daisy played lacrosse at Catholic Memorial and for the Sacred Heart Club team before lacing his skates up as an official for his senior year.
“I had been away from family and friends for six years and now I’ll have a chance to maybe work my first season in the NHL out of Boston,” said Daisy.
He is likely to receive assignments from coast to coast.
“As a kid, I grew up a Bruins fans, but moreso, I’m a fan of the game of hockey,” he said. “If our team goes unnoticed during the game, then we did our job.”
Daisy took two weeks off after the AHL Calder Cup Series concluded and is already in full swing of his training in preparation for NHL training camp and the upcoming season.
“Officiating is a year round full-time job these days,” he said. “The game is so fast these days, the players are quick and talented, you can’t just sit on the couch for the summer and expect to keep up with the speed of the game when the season comes.”
Daisy has his Bauer hockey skates and has new models on his feet as often as the pro hockey players.
“One of the most important pieces of equipment that we have,” he noted. “In today’s game, the players are so fast, quick, and shifty, that you have to be a strong skater in order to keep up with the speed of the game. The three things you can control as an official is your fitness, your skating and your game/rule knowledge. It’s been a long road.”
A journey that for Daisy may end in the Stanley Cup final.