As a boy, Mickey Ion participated in sports like any other boy his age, playing goal in hockey and forward in lacrosse. He wound up moving to Brantford, Ontario and then to Toronto, where he turned professional in lacrosse with the Tecumsehs, the best lacrosse squad at the time. He was drafted by Vancouver in 1910, and the year after that, his team won the prestigious Minto Cup. When the Patricks started the Pacific Coast Hockey Association the next year, they hired several lacrosse players to serve as officials for their hockey league. Ion was one such recruit, and so began a life in refereeing that lasted almost three decades.
Ion refereed his first professional hockey game in New Westminster, British Columbia in 1913 in the newly formed Pacific Coast Hockey Association. He earned the nickname the "Iron Man of Hockey" because he would referee four or five games a week by himself from Portland to Saskatoon. Ion's PCHA career lasted from 1912 until the league folded at the end of the 1923-24 season, and he then joined the Western Canada Hockey League as the senior official until it, too, folded in 1926. He then joined the NHL, retiring in 1941 to become the NHL's Referee-in-Chief for the 1941-42 season.
Prior to the NHL taking ownership of the Stanley Cup in 1927, Ion was the referee in four Stanley Cup Challenge series. He refereed all five games in 1924-25's best-of-five series between the Victoria Cougars and Montreal Canadiens. He refereed both games in the 1922-23 best-of-three series between the Ottawa Senators and Edmonton Eskimos, as well as all five games in the 1920-21 best-of-five series between the Ottawa Senators and Vancouver Millionaires. He was also the referee in all four games of the 1916-17 best-of-five series between the Seattle Metropolitans and Montreal Canadiens.
Mickey Ion worked five NHL Stanley Cup Finals for a total of nine games. He was the referee for the Howie Morenz Memorial All-Star Game at the Montreal Forum on November 3, 1937, won 6-5 by the NHL All-Stars over the Montreal All-Stars, a team made of players from both the Montreal Canadiens and Montreal Wanderers.
"The Mick" was well-known for impeccable impartiality, yet through all his dealings with the most skilled and physical men in hockey, the person who challenged him most often during his career was his own mother, who would save newspaper clippings of games he worked and chastise him for his behaviour when she thought it inappropriate.
Among his protégés was a young King Clancy, and Ion's advice was simple: "Once the puck drops," he said to King, "you and I are the only two sane men left in the rink." Clancy commented on Ion's manner of officiating, saying, "There's nothing but ice water running through his veins. Nothing disturbs him and he keeps telling me I've got to play deaf, be firm in my decisions, rule with a strong hand and keep calling 'em as I see them."
In 1942, Mickey retired to Seattle, where his wife had grown up. But in 1957, he contracted phlebitis, and doctors were forced to amputate his left leg. Three years later, the right leg incurred the same virulent disease, and a man so very active all his life was now, tragically, rendered legless.
Mickey Ion was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1961, delighted and honoured to be remembered in the same breath as hockey's greatest legends.