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So long to the ‘Stache: Bill McCreary will retire after Saturday

Apr 1, 2011, 4:59 PM EDT

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New York Islanders v New Jersey Devils Getty Images

Most sports have a handful of officials who stand out, whether they do so intentionally or not. Sometimes those referees are noticed because of the bitterness caused by their mistakes (perceived or otherwise), while others are noticed more for physical attributes.

When it comes to NHL referee Bill McCreary, I cannot help but focus on his glorious mustache. His ‘stache is the kind of critter you’d find under the nose of a sports star from the 1980s or an ironic rocker now.

Hockey fans won’t be able to boo (or cheer) his decisions and bask in the hairy glory of his mustache much longer, as the veteran referee is scheduled to officiate his last game Saturday as the Buffalo Sabres visit the Washington Capitals.

Here’s the lowdown on his last game, as well as an officiating career that is noteworthy for reasons that extend beyond follicle fashion. It turns out his career will come full circle in DC.

The site will be appropriate as McCreary began his four-decades-spanning NHL career by working a Capitals home game. McCreary’s debut as an NHL referee was on November 3, 1984, when the Caps hosted the New Jersey Devils at the Capital Centre in Landover, Md. Tomorrow night’s game will be the 1,737th of his accomplished career.

“Over the course of an outstanding career, Bill McCreary established a level of excellence matched by very few in the history of our profession,” said Terry Gregson, NHL Senior Vice President and Director of Officiating. “The level of esteem with which he has been regarded by his peers, officiating managers and NHL players and coaches is reflected in the number of playoff games he was selected to work – including a remarkable 15 Stanley Cup Finals.”

Regarded as one of the best ever to officiate the game, McCreary holds the League records for most playoff games (297) and most Stanley Cup Final games (44) refereed. He will finish his career second on the NHL’s all-time games-refereed list. The native of Guelph, Ontario, is one of only four referees to reach the 1,500 games mark — a feat McCreary accomplished on Feb. 16, 2008. The quality of his refereeing was recognized by selection to work the post-season 23 times.

McCreary’s long list of accomplishments includes refereeing 15 Stanley Cup Final series (13 consecutive from 1994-2007), the 1991 and 1994 Canada Cups, the 1994 NHL All-Star Game (New York), and the Winter Olympics in 1998 (Nagano), 2002 (Salt Lake City) and 2010 (Vancouver) — drawing the gold medal game assignment each time.

Whether you agree with all of his calls or not, few referees stood out like McCreary.

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