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Bill Friday Fondly Remembered

May 22, 2024, 10:22 AM ET [1 Comments]
Paul Stewart
Blogger •Former NHL Referee • RSSArchiveCONTACT
I was saddened last week to learn of the passing of longtime NHL and WHA referee Bill Friday at age 91. He was one of a kind. While I think of Bill Friday, I instantly recall that big smile and ever-present cigar, like George Burns, always with a quip that left you laughing.

Bill reffed my 1st WHA game in Hartford when I fought Jack Carlson twice. After the first, "Best fight I ever saw in Pro Hockey, Stewy. Now go rest up!"

After the second fight he leaned in and asked, "What are you guys drinking, green beer? Hey, Stewy, a goal and two fights. You've had a BIG Night. What've you got planned next?"

I remember a game in Winnipeg. I had one -- and only one -- shift all night, fighting Kim Clackson. I did OK and surprised a few folks on their team and mine.

Friday asked me, " Are you planning on any more tonight? I need to warn the lineys. [Chuckle] OK, get in the box and rest up."

In Quebec, Friday jumped on our bus from the airport to The Chateau Frontenac.

"Stewy," he joked. "They've got a full crew here tonight for you and I have a new whistle."

Many years later, after Bill retired from his on-ice career, he became a video goal judge at Florida Panthers games. Frank Udvari and Bill, two venerable old-school refs, came into the room to say hello before a game.

Udvari gave me a hug and told me he was proud of me. Friday turned to the room and announced, "I knew Stewy was going to be a good referee. He broke all the rules, so he knows which ones to enforce."

Bill always had a smile and a warm hello for me whenever we crossed paths. I always looked forward to those encounters.

Much like Bobby Hull did for the players, Bill Friday blazed a trail for NHL officials to find greener economic pastures via the World Hockey Association. Bill, the Moses of striped shirts, led the officials and the NHLOA from the Desert to the Promised Land via better pay, working conditions, travel, expenses and benefits. God Bless Bill Friday!

I am sad for his passing, for his family and for his friends which I hope he consider me one. I am happy that this guy had the confidence in himself and the talent to single handily upgrade the level of life and work for all professional hockey officials, everywhere.

**********

A 2018 inductee into 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 game.
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