A waiter in the back room of Bookbinder's in Philadelphia snapped to Andy Van Hellemond's signal and rushed back to his table.
"Yes, sir?" the waiter asked crisply.
"Ah, er, you forgot my applesauce," Van Hellemond mumbled.
"Yes, my applesauce."
"Applesauce with...crab meat?"
The waiter gave Van Hellemond a quizzical look, scratched his head and stumbled off to the kitchen.
Van Hellemond fought to maintain his serious pose. "You're not going to write that I love applesauce, are you? If the players ever find out that I love applesauce, well, I'll never hear the end of it." Right, Andy. So, for the information of Bobby Clarke, Phil Esposito and the other 360 referee baiters who play in the National Hockey League, Andy Van Hellemond is an applesauce freak. He pours globs of the stuff on his eggs, his steaks, his fish, his toast, his vegetables—even on his ties.
Andy Applesauce, the other referees have dubbed Van Hellemond. By any name, though, he is the only summa cum laude graduate of a crash training program that the NHL instituted in 1967 when the league discovered it did not have enough competent officials to satisfy the demands of expansion. The 26-year-old Van Hellemond is the youngest referee working regularly in major league hockey, but in his three NHL seasons he has displayed a degree of decisiveness, common sense and poise that some of the league's senior referees have failed to acquire. "The kid doesn't rattle because he knows what he's doing," says one NHL general manager who usually prefaces any mention of referees with a choice epithet. "Besides that, he's not one of those stuck-up pretty boys who think the crowd paid its money to watch them instead of the players."
What Van Hellemond really has become is a young Lloyd Gilmour. The 42-year-old Gilmour is the NHL's best official because he is virtually an invisible man on the ice, letting the players make the game and intruding only as a last resort. Try to hoodwink Gilmour by faking a trip, and he will respond by making a diving gesture with his right hand. Van Hellemond might lack Gilmour's cool disdain, but he knows how to deal with the gripers. "One night Van Hellemond shut up one of my players by telling him, 'Listen, pal, if it weren't for expansion, you'd probably be playing in Saginaw,' " said an NHL coach. "You know, he was right, too."
If not for expansion Van Hellemond himself probably would be in Saginaw. Like most referees, Andy Applesauce is a semi-frustrated player. "I survived junior hockey all right," he says, "but I wasn't a fast enough skater to play pro." Instead, he took an office job with a Winnipeg steel company and moonlighted nights and weekends as a referee.
Then, in the summer of 1970, Van Hellemond was sitting at his desk when a strange thought ran through his mind. "I'm going out for applesauce," he told the boss. He left the office, jumped into his car, raced to the airport and caught the next flight to Toronto. On arriving, Van Hellemond took a cab to the suburban home of Scotty Morrison, the NHL's referee-in-chief. Morrison was not at home; he was visiting one of his supervisors. Van Hellemond returned the next day. "I get letters from people all the time telling me they want to referee in the NHL," says Morrison, "but Andy was the first person ever to present his case at my front door."
Although Morrison was understandably impressed by Van Hellemond's brashness and self-confidence, he sent him back to Winnipeg with one of those "Don't call me, I'll call you" assurances that the NHL would keep its eye on him that winter. By then Van Hellemond had graduated to a moonlighting job in the same junior league in which he had played three years before. Morrison, who has more spies on his staff than the CIA, was in fact receiving bimonthly reports on his work. At the end of the 1970-71 season Morrison hired Van Hellemond, and now he works 55 to 60 NHL games a season as well as a dozen or so minor league games, such as last Thursday night's exhibition in New Haven between the Soviet National Team and the New Haven Nighthawks.
Unlike most officials, Van Hellemond is hardly a package of nerves as he waits for a game to begin. "I don't need to be calmed down," he says. "If I ever get to that point, I'll probably get out." As an official he operates with a simple philosophy. "The rules are a guide for the intelligent administrator," Van Hellemond says. "Every check could be a penalty if we interpreted the rules to the fine letter of the book. To my way of thinking, though, unless something has a very appreciable effect on the progress of the game, the game should not be interrupted." Before each game Van Hellemond rereads selected sections of the NHL rule book and studies a special 32-page "situation handbook" that Morrison passes out at the start of each season and updates with occasional directives. "Question," cites Van Hellemond. "The goaltender breaks his stick. A teammate gets a new one and slides it to him along the ice. Penalty? Not unless the moving stick interferes with the moving puck or puck carrier." Van Hellemond pauses for a moment. "A referee has always got to be sure of himself," he says. "I must work with complete conviction. If he knows the rules perfectly and applies them properly, a referee should not have too many problems."
What Van Hellemond does worry about are his position and his posture on the ice. For some peculiar reason NHL goal judges—the men in the glass houses who flash the red light when a goal is scored—have been extremely trigger-happy this season. "If the goal judge puts on the light and I'm not in a position to see whether the puck went into the net, then I'm in trouble," says Van Hellemond. One recent night in Philadelphia the Flyers were storming Chicago Goalie Tony Esposito's cage when the red light suddenly went on, telling the capacity crowd of 17,007 that the Flyers had scored another goal. Bedlam! And there was Van Hellemond frantically waving "no goal, no goal" with his hands. He had seen the play clearly because he had moved into a position directly behind the net, with his eyes practically enmeshed in the twine. Van Hellemond was in such complete command that the Flyers did not bother to protest his decision. "He saw everything clearly," says Flyers Captain Bobby Clarke. "If Van Hellemond had been over against the boards and out of the play, we could have given him a good argument."
Van Hellemond's debating posture is fairly tolerant. He listens briefly to the complaints, but once a player speaks his mind, Van Hellemond expects him to disappear. Pronto! "Referees can save a lot of trouble and a lot of time by talking to players for a second or two, as long as they don't abuse the privilege," he says. "If someone charges over toward me and just starts mouthing away, I'll tell him, 'If you stop, you're gone.' " Or, as he told the Flyers' Dave Schultz one night, "I don't see a C or an A on your jersey [for captain or alternate captain, the only players theoretically allowed to argue a call], so beat it—or else."
"I don't like to get personal, and I don't expect them to get personal," Van Hellemond says. "A player once asked me if my mother had any kids that lived, so of course I ejected him from the game. What I prefer, though, is not to make calls in front of a player's face. None of this 'Bang-bang, you're dead' type of thing. It can only antagonize people. The trick a referee has to accomplish is to establish himself without being overly forceful or overly antagonistic."
Should be easy for a man who can get applesauce with his crab meat.