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If You Want to Last, You Can't Take the Friction of the Game Personally

July 28, 2019, 7:47 AM ET [6 Comments]
Paul Stewart
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During a book signing event earlier this year for my "Ya Wanna Go?" autobiography, a fan asked me if I ever held a grudge against the players I fought on the ice. With only two exceptions -- Rick Jodzio and Bobby Schmautz, both of whom attacked me with sticks rather than fists, and Jodzio also once deliberately kneed me in the face -- I let it roll off my back.

When I played for the Binghamton Dusters in 1976-77, Jodio deliberately injured me with a cross-check to the face. I was a mess. He broke my jaw, knocked out eight teeth, left me with a deep gash on my face that I was later told took 64 stitches to close and inflicted a concussion. I stayed in the game (because that was the expectation in those days) but I was completely out of it. Afterwards, I was hospitalized when we got back to Binghamton.

Jodzio was the worst kind of opportunist. On April 11, 1976, while playing in the WHA for Calgary, he charged and cross-checked Quebec Nordiques star Marc Tardif up high and then jumped on him and started pummeling Tardif with punches as he lay unconscious on the ice after hitting his head. Jodzio wound up facing criminal charges and pleading guilty to a lesser assault charge.

About a year after the Tardif incident, I tangled with Jodzio again. This time, he kneed me in the face. After the game, members of the two teams -- myself included -- met up in the parking lot to settle the score.

When I was officiating, there were few players who would sink lower than Claude Lemieux. Go back to the checklist of disreputable traits on the ice, and most of them described Lemieux to a T: diver, opportunist and a player who did not always give 100 percent effort in the regular season. He won Stanley Cups but he had the talent to be equally successful and a more honorable player along the way.

The worst part of officiating with a player such as Lemieux on the ice is the lack of a trust factor. You have to keep an eye on such players at all times because they try to pick their spots when the official's attention is diverted or when an opponent is vulnerable.

As an official, these are the sorts of players who caused headaches -- and paperwork on reports to the League office -- for officials. It was rarely the guys who dropped the gloves the most and led the league in penalty minutes. Raffi Torres, for instance, had a suspension rap sheet as long as his arm yet never had even a 100-PIM season. That is why PIM totals can be deceptive.

At any rate, these are the exceptions and not the rule. In hockey, it's always best to forgive, even if you don't forget. If I held grudges against everyone I exchanged punches during my playing days and verbal barbs during my officiating career, I'd be angry 24/7.

On quite a few occasions during my officiating career, there were instances when coaches and I went nose-to-nose in high volume "discussions" with the f-bombs flying back and forth. It usually is not so funny at the time when the temperatures are up in a chilly rink in the dead of winter or a sweltering building during playoff time. Later on, though, both of you usually end of laughing about it during the offseason or years later at poolside in Naples during the Coach's convention.

You must understand, it's part of the game. I get that and so do my peers. I have often said, I never taken anything said to me on the ice personally. There is no carryover, no grudge for anything that happens in the heat of battle.

Friction and nose-to-nose confrontations are part of the game and part of the lore. The people that are usually walking away in horror are those that have never had to muck it up in the corners or go in harm's way through the slot. I'd like to think that we professionals get it and carry on.

Years ago, Andre Savard confronted me in the hallway in the AHL's rink in Fredericton. Savard threw a punch and hit me just under my chin but more in the chest.

.I stood there, laughed a bit and asked him, "Is that the best you've got?"

My buddy, linesman Romeo LeBlanc (rest in peace, my friend) got between us and I walked into my dressing room. I had to report it to AHL president Jack Butterfield.

Andre got fined for the incident. However, I never mentioned the punch as it really didn't really qualify as a "good one." I hardly even felt it.

A few weeks later, I was walking through the Montreal Forum Zamboni Pit and who should be coming the other way? Why, it was my buddy, Andre Savard.

I stuck my hand out and asked him in my best French, "Andre, ça va?"

He looked a little surprised but then responded with "Pas Mal."

We both then chuckled and walked on our way. In hockey, it's a little bit about passion and a little bit about respect....you won't get one if you don't have the other.

This should go without saying: I am not advocating or condoning a policy of coaches or players physically confronting officials or even heatedly verbally confronting them. However, if it happens, it does not shock or especially offend me. It's part of life in the game.

In my refereeing career, I only ever handed four bench minors, involving three different coaches. One of the coaches whom I nabbed was Robbie Ftorek. I consider Ftorek of my closest friends in the world. He is a former teammate of mine with the Cincinnati Stingers in the WHA and Quebec Nordiques in the NHL and someone whom I have known for most of my life.

The confrontation did not end our friendship. Robbie was passionate about his job and advocating for his team. I was doing my job, about which I was and am passionate. That's just how it goes in hockey.


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.
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