Ex-NHL ref Van Hellemond intends to sue papers over comic

Andy Van Hellemond spent 27 years refereeing in the NHL before hanging up his skates in 1996. Three years later, he was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame after 1,475 regular season games and 227 in the playoffs, including 19 Stanley Cup Final appearances. He was also a trendsetter in becoming the first official to wear a helmet beginning in 1984.

In another trendsetting move, Van Hellemond has become the first NHL official to file a lawsuit over a comic strip.

Van Hellemond has apparently taken exception to this Adam@home comic strip and has served notices to newspapers that ran it on May 29, 2011, as well as the cartoon's creators, that he intends to sue for libel.

From the Toronto Star, which was one of the papers served:

"Our position is that the statement, that someone's 'the worst and most evil,' is a libellous statement," Gavin Tighe, Van Hellemond's lawyer, said this week. "You talk about evil, Adolf Hitler jumps to mind. Or Satan. ... Here's a guy whose entire career was based on integrity and fairness being called evil. It's pretty damaging."

The 63-year-old Van Hellemond, who hasn't refereed an NHL game since his 1996 retirement from the ice, was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1999. He retired as the NHL's director of officials in 2004. A city councillor in Guelph since being elected in the fall, he declined comment.

Ah yes, didn't you read that strip and instantly equate "evil" Van Hellemond to Hitler and Satan? Who wouldn't?

The Star spoke with several libel experts who were split on the legitimacy of Van Hellemond's claim.

The paper's executive editor admitted the comic was "stupid" and regretted publishing it, but felt that it in no way fit the criteria for libel and that its readers know the difference between a fictional character and a Star editorial.

Van Hellemond hasn't been immune from controversy since retiring as a referee. He resigned his post as director of officiating in 2004 after the Globe and Mail and National Post reported that Van Hellemond had borrowed money from on-ice officials who in-turn received preferential playoff assignments. NHL VP Bill Daly said at the time: "We can say unequivocally that we are satisfied that staffing decisions for all NHL games during Mr. Van Hellemond's tenure were made entirely on the merits of the officials involved."

Gavin Tighe, Van Hellemond's lawyer, told the Star that that while the former ref has obviously heard worse during his career as an NHL referee, the use of the word "evil" is the sticking point in the argument.

If you ask us, we're more offended by the "icing" joke.

Stick-tap Kukla