TRURO - A lifelong dream will come true Thursday for Jon McIsaac.
But it won't be perfect.
The only thing that could make the 29-year-old Truro resident's NHL referee debut sweeter was if his mother Joan was in the stands at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia watching her son. Joan, who never missed a game Jon ever suited up for as a player or official, died Nov. 21, 2012 - exactly one year before her son's first NHL regular season contest - from complications due to multiple strokes. She was 67.
"That's going to be a big hole missing," McIsaac said. "But this will be a good way to remember her. It'll help make me feel a bit better about that date."
McIsaac, who already has four NHL preseason games in his whistle, will be calling the shots when the Flyers host the Buffalo Sabres at 8 p.m. Atlantic time. The game will be shown on Bell TV.
"I'm really excited," McIsaac said. "I've worked my whole career for this, so it's really exciting and it's a big step for me."
It's been a tough road to get here for McIsaac, who first donned the stripes at the minor hockey level as a 15-year-old, following in the footsteps of his older brother Jamie, who was a regular official on the Maritime junior A circuit for several years.
McIsaac was hooked from the beginning and worked his way up the ranks.
"He's paid his dues, that's for sure," McIsaac's father Bill said. "At every level he always took criticism and you never had to tell him anything twice. He always took it to heart and did what he had to do to get better."
Although a notoriously tough Philadelphia crowd may not be easy on him in his first game, McIsaac will have a strong cheering section in the seats. He'll be joined by Bill, Jamie and sister-in-law Sandra, along with his wife Sarah (Pinkney) her parents Colleen and Brian and several friends and other family members.
McIsaac first started thinking about the NHL at 17 when he was able to officiate the Canada Winter Games in Bathurst, N.B. and the World Under-17 Challenge. Then, when he made it to the Central Hockey League as a 25-year-old, he began to feel the goal was a realistic possibility.
"That's when I started taking it more seriously," the six-foot, 185-pounder said.
He signed a contract with the NHL in August 2012 to work the American Hockey League on a full-time basis and will be eased into the NHL by officiating directors. He's already scheduled to work a second NHL contest Dec. 16 when the Dallas Stars visit the Colorado Avalanche.
"I'm not quite sure how many others I'll get," McIsaac said. "But I'm just happy to get two for now."
It's a sweet payoff for McIsaac, who has dedicated his life to his craft. He's a student of the game who trains daily to make sure he's at the top of his game. But he knows there's still lots of work to do to become a full-time official in the world's best hockey league.
"I don't want to say getting signed was the easy part," McIsaac said. "But there are only 33 referees in the NHL so it's a tough lineup to crack. You just have to keep working and keep improving."
Following Thursday's game, McIsaac will use his day off Friday to take his friends and family around Philadelphia, where he and Sarah lived in 2011-12. He'll return to work in the AHL on Saturday in Wilkes-Barre before working Sunday in Hershey.
On Twitter: @tdnmatt
Following is a timeline of Jon McIsaac's rise to the NHL as an official:
Age 15 - Started officiating minor hockey games.
Age 17 - Started working junior A and B hockey games as a linesman.
Age 19 - Served as a referee at the junior A and B levels and a linesman in the QMJHL and CIS.
Age 21 - Became a QMJHL referee.
Age 25 - Began to work Central Hockey League games as a referee.
Age 27 - Moved up to the East Coast and American leagues as a referee.
Age 28 - Signed a contract with the NHL to work AHL contests.
Age 29 - Makes NHL regular season debut Nov. 21, 2013.