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The hockey world is a small one. Quite often, you meet the nicest people at the rink, and their faces soon become familiar ones as you see them repeatedly through the years.
This past week, I was in Sioux City, Iowa, to watch my son, Max, at the orientation skate for hopefuls for the USHL's Sioux City Musketeers. Max skated both on a wing and on defense during the session. Lo and behold, I saw two familiar faces at the rink while I was there. You may recognize them, too: Jamie Langenbrunner and Joe Nieuwendyk.
Jamie was there for his son, Mason, a sturdy defenseman. Joe was there for his boy, Jackson, a center. The day was all about our boys, not about us, but I couldn't help but reminisce a bit.
Do you realize, in this photo, you are looking at a combined 809 goals in the NHL? What a line we would have made! OK, so Joe had 564 of 'em and Jamie had 243, leaving two glorious NHL tallies for me.
Hey, I wasn't in the NHL or WHA for my dazzling hands, unless you are referring to throwing hands with all three of the Carlson brothers, Dave "Killer" Hanson, Terry O'Reilly, Stan Jonathan, Al Secord, Jack McIlhargey, Gordie Lane, Brent Ashton, Nick Fotiu (competing for a roster spot at Rangers training camp in '76), Frank Beaton, Gilles "Bad News" Bilodeau and, well, lots of others. Not that either Jamie or Joe needed anyone's protection, but I'd have gladly patrolled a wing on their line to help keep the other side honest.
I am, of course, kidding. Apart from the age gap, if we were theoretically all on the same team, I'd have been admiring the work of Langenbrunner and Nieuwendyk during my long... sometimes 60-minute-long... breaks between shifts. My ice-level perspective on both players in the NHL came solely as a referee. I appreciated both of them.
Jamie played the game hard and tough but he was never a dirty player on the ice. Joe was a spectacular talent, and a very intelligent player impact player for a long time in the world's top league. Both were also very classy guys. They just played hard, went about their business and played the game the right way.
Thank you to the Musketeers' management and staff for running a first class event. Special thanks to Musketeers owners, Dr. Matt Gornet and Dr. Valerie Ratts, whom I met in Russia when The Musketeers came to play there a few years ago. Their son, Cam, is a great goaltender who plays at Harvard. The good doctors attended my induction to the US Hall of Fame this past December in Nashville. They are just caring, classy people, and outstanding owners who run a fine organization in the top NCAA feeder league in the United States. I am proud to call them very dear friends.
You meet the nicest people through hockey. That's why I love that life I have had in rinks across the globe. Hope to see YOU at the rink soon!
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.