Follow Paul on Twitter: @paulstewart22
Over this past weekend, apart from discovering the hard way that I have developed a severe allergy to almonds, I had another dilemma on my hands: the last-moment unavailability of an official who had been scheduled to work a game set in motion a lot of phone calls and computer legwork to find a substitute and make sure every game was still assigned in a logistically feasible and efficient-as-possible way.
When you are a player, you don't think much about the coach's thought process behind his lineup; you just want to know if you are playing and where. Likewise, when you are an active official, you don't worry about the assignment jigsaw puzzle that must be assembled through the season. You simply want to know what your upcoming assignments are and plan how to get from place to place to fulfill them.
As an assignor, however, there is a thought process behind every game. Sometimes, because we have so many games to assign, immediate need availability is the No. 1 priority. Reality is, just as with players, not every official is going to be a star but the vast majority work hard at their craft to find a fit in your lineup. Sometimes, you have to put faith in an inexperienced official (or player) before he'd ideally be ready for the assignment from a developmental standpoint.
Apart from simply crossing your fingers and hoping for the best, there are things you can do to help put an official in the best possible position to succeed that night. When possible, perhaps they can be paired with seasoned veterans you trust and who can help them out on the ice. Another tactic that works: using a little bit of psychology with the coaches.
More than once, I've told coaches ahead of such games, "Listen, I need your help here. We've got a kid working this game tonight. He's got promise but he's still a little green. Could you do me a favor and give me some feedback afterwards to let me know how he did?"
Approached in this manner, most coaches -- even ones who are often pretty rough on officials -- are less likely to feel like they're being screwed with the selection of officials and are more likely to try to join with you. Often, I obtain good feedback through this method as well; teaching tools for my officials. Some things you have to take with a grain of salt -- reviews tend to be more positive from the winning coach, and some people are more inclined than others to give thoughtful feedback. Nevertheless, it's a good developmental technique as well as a relationship builder.
Experience is a great teacher. For example, one EpiPen injection and awful night of just wanting to feel normal later, I've learned that almonds and I need to call off our relationship for good. No Almond Joys for me in the ol' Halloween basket, OK?
A Class of 2018 inductee to the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame, 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 the director of hockey officiating for the ECAC. Visit his official website at YaWannaGo.com