Tony Sericolo ’91 and the Hazardous Life of an NHL Linesman
Focus is critical for Tony Sericolo the moment he clocks into work. Crushing impacts, sharpened skates, high sticks, and fists are his occupational hazards. Though life can be demanding and at times dangerous for officials in the National Hockey League, Sericolo says that tension is exactly what he enjoys about hockey. “What draws me to the game now is the speed and intensity. I have a job that keeps me in great shape, both mentally and physically, as I never know what to expect when the whistle blows.”
Sericolo first learned a hockey stop when he was eight years old, and since then he’s been at the rink nearly every day. After serving as captain of the men’s hockey team at AIC, Sericolo pursued a career as a linesman and quickly became one of the highest-ranking officials in the nation. In 2006, he was chosen out of a large pool of contenders to officiate at the Olympic Winter Games in Italy, and most recently he was selected for the 2015 National Hockey League All-Star game in Ohio. Last year, Sericolo chalked up his 1,000th game officiating as a linesman for the NHL—no small feat.
Sericolo admits he had some lessons to learn about hockey, and himself, when he first started playing at AIC. “I certainly wasn’t the easiest player to coach my freshman year. I found myself watching a few games from the press box.”
Head Coach Gary Wright played Sericolo on the defensive line, and by Sericolo’s junior year the Yellow Jackets had captured the Eastern College Athletic Conference Division II Championship. “Under Coach Wright’s guidance, I developed a respect for the game and the people involved in it. I didn’t realize it at the time, but the lessons he was trying to teach me back then were lessons that would last me a lifetime.”
After graduation, Sericolo tried his hand at officiating—first as a linesman, working youth games for USA Hockey. He quickly moved up to the American Hockey League, working with a fellow AIC alumnus, Kevin Collins ’72. While working with the AHL, Sericolo officiated for two Calder Cup Finals. After only eight years as a linesman, Sericolo was inducted into the National Hockey League Officials’ Association in 1998. Sericolo fondly remembers his first playoff game—Boston Bruins vs. Montréal Canadiens.
“Every official’s first game is always an exciting one. I realized that all the hard work I had put into achieving this goal had finally paid off. During warm-ups, Ray Bourque shook my hand and welcomed me to the NHL. He wished me good luck and then skated away.”
The New York Times recently published an article in which Sericolo was praised; it also declared that linesman are the “most anonymous men on the ice.” The primary role of a linesman is to identify offside players, call major penalties, and generally assist the referees in their overall duties. You will also see linesmen as the first ones to swarm in when a scuffle or full-on brawl breaks out. “According to the rulebook, linesmen are not responsible for breaking up the fights,” Sericolo says, “but we consider it a courtesy we provide to the players.” Fighting is, of course, a main aspect of the hockey experience, and to some degree fans expect and revel in momentary or long-standing grudges becoming physical.
There is the beloved fan joke about a person who goes to a fight and a hockey game breaks out. For anyone who pays attention to the theatrical aspect of the fighting, there is an interesting relationship between the veteran players and the linesmen who interfere on their behalf. “They have the most respect for us because they know that down the road, they might need us to break up a fight early if they are on the losing side. A player who rarely fights and is just reacting to the situation is very hard to control in a fight because they are not familiar with the process.”
However, that doesn’t mean that he can let his guard down. Back in 2009, while pulling apart a fight, Sericolo caught a punch to the chest from a known brawler, and was bent over with pain. “I’ve had about a half dozen injuries over the years but fortunately nothing that sidelined me. I even worked with those three broken ribs.” As a part of his daily routine, Sericolo spends two hours in the gym preparing his body to better avoid injury. Unlike a lot of popular sports, hockey is very physically demanding on its officials. Each September, officials go to training camp alongside
the players. Physical fitness is measured through a number of drills and tests, including a rigorous VO2 bicycle test that measures your body’s oxygen consumption. To keep officials precise in their judgments, the NHLOA also quizzes officials using video scenarios.
When he’s not working or training for work, Sericolo enjoys being with his wife JoAnne and three children, Isabella, Anthony, and Sophia. The NHLOA aside, Sericolo jokes that his favorite critics might just be his own kids. “I’ve been doing this since before they were born, so they aren’t particularly impressed to see me on TV. They do however tell me when I’ve made a mistake and their friends are talking about it at school the following day.”
Three days after Sericolo was inducted into the NHL, his daughter Isabella was born. Sericolo chose the number “84” for his jersey number, signifying her birth month and day. Today, Sericolo is proud to say that Isabella has verbally agreed to play field hockey for the University of Vermont upon her graduation from high school. One of Sericolo’s great joys is to watch his kids as a fan on the sidelines. “My children are all heavily involved in sports so I spend a lot of time at the fields and in the rinks. I’m yelling at officials, of course.”
-By Thomas Friedmann