Shandor Alphonso won’t be a “40/40” man anymore.
Alphonso’s hockey dual existence ends when he steps onto the ice of Buffalo’s recently-renamed KeyBank Center Thursday as part of the officiating crew for the Sabres home opener against the Montreal Canadiens.
The NHL promoted the 32-year-old Orangeville, Ont., native to full-time linesman this season, ending a two-year apprenticeship that had him officiating 40 National Hockey League games and 40 American Hockey League contests.
His days of officiating a game at Madison Square Garden one night and at the Syracuse War Memorial the next are over. Now he’s looking forward to visiting NHL cities he’s never seen before – Los Angeles, Anaheim, San Jose and Denver.
“It feels great,” Alphonso told me recently. “A lot of guys at (referee’s camp) said ‘You can get on the 40/40 by accident or anyone can get on the 40/40 but to get promoted full-time, that’s pretty special.’ It means a ton to me, I’m really excited about getting the season going.”
Alphonso was among three referees and three linesmen to get bumped up to the big league full time this season.
“All of the additions to our officiating team, including Shandor, bring a great skating skill set, athletic mindset and hockey IQ that is absolutely vital to be successful in today’s NHL,” said Stephen Walkom, the NHL’s senior vice president and director of officiating.
Now that he’s a full time NHL zebra, Alphonso is doing what the league’s players do and setting his sights on the post season. Stanley Cup Playoffs assignments are rewards to referees and linesmen who excel during the regular season.
“In the player world, you’re battling for ice time each game,” he told me. “In our world, you’re battling to get the big games; you’re battling to get into the playoffs; your’re battling, once you’re in the playoffs, to get to the next round. And once you get to the next round, you’re battling to get into the Stanley Cup Final. You’re battling with yourself to get better every game you do…because at the end of the day, every guy wants to work the Stanley Cup Final.”
Alphonso hopes to achieve another goal this season: to work a game with veteran Jay Sharrers, his role model and the NHL’s only other black on-ice official.
“It would be pretty cool to work with Jay,” he said. “You don’t usually notice referees, but I noticed Jay when I was growing up – it would be pretty special to work with him.”
As a boy, Alphonso dreamed of making it to the NHL – as a player. A rugged left wing , he played 183 games for the Ontario Hockey League’s Sudbury Wolves from 2001-02 to 2003-04, notching 25 goals, 48 assists and collecting 143 penalty minutes.
He went on play for Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ontario, from 2005-06 to 2009-10. He tallied 18 goals, 22 assists, and accumulated 121 penalty minutes in 111 games for the Thunderwolves.
During his fourth year at Lakehead, the NHL invited him to participate in the NHL Amateur Exposure Combine, an officiating camp designed to entice major junior, U.S., and Canadian college hockey players to consider becoming linesmen or referees.
The experience convinced him to drop his stick and pick up a whistle. He officiated in various leagues, including the OHL, before landing the 40/40 opportunity with the NHL/AHL two seasons ago.
He performed well enough to be assigned to work the AHL’s Calder Cup Final in his rookie season and again in 2015-16. Even though he’s logged some NHL officiating time, Alphonso will be the junior guy on officiating crews most nights.
“I’ll be in charge of the rookie duties – little stuff like renting the car, doing the report after the game,” he said with a laugh. “Nothing too crazy.”