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When you are a hockey person, and I'm a hockey guy, you take special attention in watching the people that you know or coached to see how they are doing. For the many years that I have been in the game, there are many different people in different roles in the game that I watch with great pride.
Tonight in Philadelphia, Max Wilman will be suiting up for the Flyers in his NHL debut at age 26. I have known Max since he was a papoose in his stroller at Hyannisport Club. So I'll certainly be watching and rooting for him.
Max's dad is a great electrician, a fine golfer and my close friend. His sister, Mom and grandfather are all stellar people who belong to the same golf club that I have been a member of for 41 years. Here's a young a man who I watched play on Cape Cod for Barnstable High. Then a year at Wliliston Academy before he became a Brown University Bruin in the ECAC.
Overcoming a serious knee injury and a team that tried hard but not always with good results, Max graduated from Brown and then went onto a year as a fifth year Senior at Boston University.
Starting out in the ECHL, did you know that Max was a healthy scratch at that minor league rung for a few weeks before he got a chance to play? When he finally got an opportunity, Max showed that he could put the puck in the net, play with a lot of energy and be reliable defensively, too. His talent level was beyond ECHL-caliber; much closer to NHL caliber.
Moving up to The AHL, Max kept gaining experience and kept scoring goals. His ECHL contract became an AHL contract. The AHL contact then became an NHL contract. Surprise, Surprise! Max has made the Flyers and will dress on Friday night for his first game in The NHL.
A few years ago, in my blog, I mentioned that Max should get a shot with the Flyers and now he has his shot. I wish him good luck and fast ice. Well, knowing that surface in Philly and most other NHL cities, may the puck stay flat or at least bounce his way.
I will be watching with interest and my best wishes for you in the start of your career. Funny, as a referee, I was told by an NHL organization that I wouldn't make a good scout. Hell, I was always 3 feet from these guys and knew who could play and who was faking it. Not that I know that much about hockey.
Another person who I will be watching with great interest this Saturday night is a young lady who will become the first woman to referee in the AHL. Frankly, she's good enough already to be in her fourth or fifth pro season, but changing minds and hearts takes time.
Katie Guay, who has worked for me in the ISL Prep Hockey, The Chowder Cups, The ECAC Women and what I am most proud of was my decision to choose Katie to break the glass ceiling for reffing in a Men's D 1 College Hockey game. Sacred Heart at Union was her first game. Needless to say, she did herself proud.
Later, I assigned Katie to more men's Hockey games including Princeton @ Harvard. I knew we had a good one when a former Harvard Coach, AD, Harvard legendary player and a gold medal winner on the 1960 Olympic team came up to me after the second period to crow about that referee, "with the pony tail."
Bill Cleary actually gushed with praise for this first woman to ref a men's game at The Bright Center a few winters ago.
I knew then that my ability to judge talent, coach talent to be better at the job and to display confidence in assigning a woman to a men's game was justified.
Later on, Katie worked Harvard vs Boston College at The Beanpot at The TD Garden. That's the Men's Beanpot, by the way. Coach Gerry York congratulated me on assigning Katie stating that she can really skate and communicated very well. "Where did you find her?"
As well, she worked UNH vs Cornell at Madison Square Garden. There was some reluctance in this assignment until one coach, after the game, nodded to me that even he was impressed.
These were all "Firsts" but to me they were assignments that were correct as the talent was there, the skating ability was there, the conditioning was there and my confidence in Katie was always there. I judge talent and didn't worry about X or Y chromosomes. When the ref sticks the arm in the air and blows the whistle, It's either a good call or not.
I asked her once, "What is your goal as a referee?"
"I want to work The Frozen Four for The NCAA Women's Championships. I want to work in the Women's Olympics," she said.
As you might guess, mission accomplished on both counts.
In case you missed it, It was both the Women's Games that she expressed as her goals. She never abandoned her role as a referee for Women's Hockey even as she proved she could step into the challenges of working the Men's game too.
I will confess, I am awfully proud to have three women officials signed by the AHL. Kelly Cooke, Amanda Tassoni with Katie leading the way by being again, the first woman to work a game in the men's pro AHL level.
I give all the credit to Max and Katie for making it to their Big Night tomorrow. It's 100 percent their doing, their honor. I'm just trying to explain in this blog why I have such strong interest in their careers.
As President Teddy Roosevelt said, "All honor goes to that person who is willing to stand in the middle of the arena and perform."
So give no credit to me. Root for number 71 on the Flyers. Root for the ref; it won't kill ya, I promise.
I am very proud of "my people", and I consider Katie, Max and his family to be among them.
Max and Katie: Godspeed. Show them what you've got. Remember to have fun. You've both EARNED this night. The torch has been passed. Now your new journeys will begin.
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 games.
Visit Paul's official websites, YaWannaGo.com and Officiating by Stewart.