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Over the course of my career in hockey, I have never been one to kowtow to anyone because of their stature or clout in the game. To be honest, that got me in trouble more times than I can count, but I have never cared.
During my active refereeing days, I situations arise -- for which I am neither apologetic nor ashamed -- in which superstar players pushed things too far in arguing a call with me or my officiating brethren and I had to take corrective action. I once ejected Wayne Gretzky
. I also ejected Steve Yzerman
and Mario Lemieux from games.
I've told the Gretzky and Yzerman stories in previous blogs. In Mario's case, the player skated up and deliberately bumped me.
Said Mario, "I'm the show. People are here to see me, not you."
I put my finger on his chest, pushed him away and said, "Well, they're not going to see you any more tonight. You're gone!"
Years later, Mario and I struck up a friendship. We hugged at a Hockey Fights Cancer event and there was an NHL owner who felt I shouldn't referee one of Mario's games because we hugged. After my retirement, I had a fun experience making a dinner-bet wager with Mario and Mark Messier
at a Legends Game in Quebec City.
In Gretz's case, I have known him since he was a 16-year-old rookie with the WHA's Indianapolis Racers and I knew his father well for many years. Thus, when we had our run-in where I tossed him from a game, I called upon that history and reminded Wayne that his father would not be proud of the way he was behaving. Wayne understood.
Here's the thing: I hated to do it because I felt for the fans who bought tickets to the game. For some of them, it might be their only chance to see Gretzky play. However, there are still limits that have to be set and lines that can't be crossed. If they are, corrective action must be taken.
Note that I've twice said "corrective action", not "punitive action." As a League and as officials do not do the game no favors by giving players endless leeway and third chances after a warning. That goes for the stars as well as everyone else.
In Saturday night's game in Pittsburgh between the Rangers and Penguins, Sidney Crosby pushed the envelope a little too far -- twice -- in his treatment of the officials. Referees Kelly Sutherland and Graham Skilliter showed the patience of Job in not bagging Crosby with an unsportsmanlike conduct let alone the misconduct he deserved.
I do not blame Kelly and Graham for their handling of Crosby. Every official has his own threshold for how much is too much. What I am saying, from my chair, is that the NHL does the game no favors by allowing certain players to become bigger than the game itself.
Crosby is a mesmerizing talent on the ice. He doesn't need to do all the embellishment he does (and, yes, he still does quite a bit of it). He doesn't need to show up officials the way he did the other night. I know I'm a dinosaur, but I still harken back to the way that elite skill players like Jean Beliveau conducted themselves as gentlemen on the ice and I think that superstar players should still aspire to that level of character and dignity while still being a competitor.
On another note, the correct call was made in the third round of the shootout in Saturday's game, despite all the confusion that ensued. Rangers defenseman Dan Boyle made contact with the puck twice -- the original shot hit the post, came out and hit Boyle and went into the net -- which is a no-goal in penalty shots and shootouts.
Paul Stewart holds the distinction of being the first U.S.-born citizen to make it to the NHL as both a player and referee. On March 15, 2003, he became the first American-born referee to officiate in 1,000 NHL games.
Today, Stewart is an officiating and league discipline consultant for the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) and serves as director of hockey officiating for the Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC).
The longtime referee heads Officiating by Stewart, a consulting, training and evaluation service for officials. Stewart also maintains a busy schedule as a public speaker, fund raiser and master-of-ceremonies for a host of private, corporate and public events. As a non-hockey venture, he is the owner of Lest We Forget.
In addition to his blogs for HockeyBuzz every Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, Stewart writes a column every Wednesday for the Huffington Post.