Andy McElman never allowed himself to get his hopes up, realizing that being selected as one of 13 NHL officials to work the Winter Olympics in Sochi was anything but a sure thing.
Even when the email hit his in-box, announcing the Chosen 13, McElman – a 20-year NHL veteran and 52-year-old Crystal Lake resident – couldn't bring himself to believe his name was actually on the list. But when the congratulatory phone calls and text messages had his cellphone buzzing earlier this month, the reality that McElman was headed to Russia in early February finally hit.
McElman has worked his share of big games during his linesman career. But he admits sharing the ice with a star-studded collection of hockey talent in Sochi rises above anything he's accomplished.
"It's the best in the world playing and competing in a very short amount of time," McElman said. "They bring it and they play hard and it's going to be very exciting.
"I don't know how else to say it. It's going to be a very memorable experience to work that level of hockey. A lot of these players carry a very strong feeling for their country and they will complete for that. That's what makes it great event to participate in."
Like everyone who was chosen for the Olympic assignment, McElman submitted paperwork earlier this year, pitching his candidacy for one of the 13 spots. When he filled his paperwork with NHL Senior Vice President and Director of Officiating Stephen Walkom, McEhlman didn't figure he had much of a chance.
As the season began, McElman kept the selection process in the back of his mind, hoping he would be chosen, but never allowing the waiting game to get in the way of his day-to-day hockey work life.
"In the grand scheme of things, you hope you get selected. But sometimes in this business, when it happens, it happens," McElman said. "When you think you're going to get something, it doesn't happen and then there's times when you don't think it's going to get it, it happens.
"Inside, I hoped I would get it, but at the same time, I had to stay collected and grounded and just wait for when the list (of officials) was announced."
According to NHL.com, the 13 officials were chosen from a pool of 32 candidates by the International Ice Hockey Federation based on three criteria. The IIHF committee was looking for officials who displayed good physical conditioning, performance in (officials) respective national championships and the ability to work as a team.
McElman was one of six NHL linesmen to be selected.
"All of these candidates are considered to be the top officials in their respective club leagues," IIHF officiating manager Konstantin Komissarov said in a release when the officiating crew was announced.
There will be some adjustment. Olympic hockey is played under IIHF rules, which differ slightly from the NHL. The game is played on an Olympic-sized sheet of ice, forcing players and officials alike to skate harder and longer. Both will force officials to approach their jobs just a little differently as there is more area to cover and different sight lines to track the game in front of them.
For McElman, the opportunity to not only work the Games, but to do so representing the United States holds a high honor – one that he knows he won't soon forget. McElman will work the games after returning to the ice earlier this year. McElman missed nearly a year after sustaining multiple facial injuries that required surgery after he was hit in the face by a puck during a game in Florida in February 2012.
Almost two years after the injury, McElman feels fortunate not only to be back on the ice, but participating in an event he wasn't ever sure he'd get a chance to work.
"It's awesome to be selected," he said. "I just can't put it into words what it will be mean to go and work there. I just can't tell you what it means."