A reader asked me recently whether I ever considered training to become a linesman rather than a referee. The answer, honestly, is that the profession chose me rather than me choosing the profession.
I actually did have a certain degree of cross-training. During my own officiating career, I subbed for injured linesmen on an emergency basis a couple of times -- including in a 1997 Stanley Cup playoff game between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia when Wayne Bonney suffered a leg injury in the second period. I had initially been the stand-by referee for the game. I filled in adequately, but it was certainly not my forte.
Back in the early 1980s, when I made the transition from playing to officiating, I simply wanted to find a way to stay involved in the game. It didn't matter to me if it would be as a referee or a linesman. It was at my first NHL Officials Association training camp, shortly after returning home from Bruce Hood's officiating school, when I started on the path to becoming a referee.
I told the full story of my playing-to-officiating transition in my autobiography, "Ya Wanna Go"
, but here's the short version.
Approximately a week after returning home from the Bruce Hood Referee School, Scotty Morrison phoned me. He told me that John McCauley intended to call me the next day to arrange my travel to the annual NHL Officials Association training camp.
I was thrilled. And fortunately, the NHL paid for my travel there. McCauley sent me an airline ticket. Off I went to Toronto, where I underwent a physical, psychological/personality test, and written NHL rules test.
I passed the physical, and I apparently had more of a "referee mindset" when I answered a series of test. One question asked was whether I'd rather attend a party or throw a party. I am in the latter category, by far.
I failed the written examination the first time I took it, but that came as no surprise. I never had previously studied the NHL Rule Book. Although my grandfather and father had been longtime hockey officials, Rule Book knowledge doesn't come through genetics OR through playing the game. There are very few players, then or now, who could pass an NHL Rule Book test on the spot. The same goes for the majority of coaches.
One glance at my career PIMs would tell you that I broke the rules for the living when I played. So now, in order to enforce those very same rules, I'd have study the Rule Book. At that point, I had yet to officiate any game higher than at the Division III college hockey.
The training complex in Toronto included two rinks. One was for the referees to train and the other one for the linesmen. As I walked down the hallway separating the two rinks, I asked McCauley and Morrison which direction they wanted me to go.
They pointed left. I didn't realize at the time that the two rinks were separated into referees and linesmen. Someone told me later that night that I had trained with the refs.
So that's how it began. John and Scotty viewed me as a refereeing prospect and set me on that path. Had they told me to go to the right, I'd still have been happy. The only thing that would have disappointed me was to be told to turn around and go home.
My life motto has always been this: Just keep me skating, and I'll be fine.
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.