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I Wish I'd Been There

February 13, 2023, 9:03 PM ET [10 Comments]
Paul Stewart
Blogger •Former NHL Referee • RSSArchiveCONTACT
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A few days ago, I spent a good portion of my day an an invited speaker. I gave a talk to a very successful college hockey team about all things hockey and life. I loved being back in the dressing room with all of those young players and their coaches.

At the end of my talk, I asked the players to stop and think about officiating after they are done with playing. I touched upon the financial aspects, the chance to get to the NHL, the chance to go to the Olympics, the chance to stay on the ice and to be part of the game.

I described Hockey as a very large pizza. Playing is one slice, coaching is another as is scouting, sharpening skates, driving the Zamboni, being a writer, owner, agent or even the commissioner of a League. You never know where your skates and passion will take you. Dream large but keep your eyes, ears and mind open for when opportunity knocks.

I asked them to think about officiating, my "BEST" slice of that hockey pizza pie. As much as I loved being a player, officiating was the most fulfilling endeavor from my perspective.

I mentioned Wes McCauley. Drafted by the Detroit Red Wings, he played at Michigan State and in the minors. Today, Wes is considered one of the top Referees in the NHL. He's still skating and is a big presence in our game. I am proud to say that Wes reffed my 1,000th game alongside me. That guy is a man who does officiating a great good by his example of being a true pro.

We all have a shared duty, when on the ice or in "civilian clothes", to represent our sport with with the respect it deserves. That is why, now, what I have to address is so distasteful.

With the diminishing numbers of officials in all sports, to watch our officiating numbers dwindle is heartbreaking and scary. Games are going black. More games won't be played because of the dwindling number of game officials. It's already happening in some leagues.

Part of the reason we have declining numbers across the sporting world for officiating has to be the disrespect and downright abuse that officials face from fans, parents, players and coaches.
Add to it, the still-lingering effect that the Covid pandemic had on our lives.

There are too many games and too few officials. Collectively, people appear to be running away from the chance to officiate sports. We don't need people professionally involved in hockey to be part of the problem rather than the solution.

Now for the distasteful part; As I write this, I have in my hand two game reports from two different amateur officiating crews. Both of these reports are from out-of-state crews writing about the abuse they received from one parent and from one coach. They document absolutely atrocious, abusive behavior toward amateur officials by people who just so happen to have made their primary livelihoods in the game at the NHL level.

How did I get such reports from out-of-state, you ask? Well, there are no secrets in hockey. You want to spread the news? Try a telegram, a telephone, a television or the fastest means..."TELL A REF"

Nothing crazy about that? After all, abusive language and friction are part of the game. Yes and no.

I am ashamed to say, the parent is a former NHL officiating colleague of mine. Besides the usual F bombs, this guy blocked the door and would not allow the two officials to exit their room.
"Do you know who the F I am?" he hollered.

Did I mention this was during a Pee Wee level game and the two young referees are all of 17 years old?

Now I would think you might say that this is strictly alleged and that the former NHL official who was involved has a right to dispute the allegations.

I agree. However, the report is very specific about the incident. I firmly believe that the two young referees didn't simply make it up.

The governing body of that state took two weeks to come to a decision about this incident. They gave this former referee a 30-day suspension from coaching. He's not even the coach of his son's team. In addition, the former NHL official is not allowed to enter a referees' dressing room for two years.

Once the word spreads, why would any official want to have him in their room anyway. Clearly this "punishment" doesn't fit the disgraceful action my former colleague engaged in.

The group of people who assessed this punishment gave this coward a slap on the wrist. This was a lip-service "appease all parties" move with no real impact statement being made.

More importantly, the message they did send is brutal. They have all but shouted from the rooftops to all the parents, coaches and especially the official, "WE DON'T HAVE THE OFFICIALS' BACKS. IT'S OK BY US TO VERBALLY ABUSE OFFICIALS. EVEN TEENAGE ONES IN AMATEUR HOCKEY. THE GREEN LIGHT IS ON, SO HAVE AT IT!"

I am told that these two young refs are so dismayed that they are considering giving up officiating. Do you blame them?

A week or two later, I was sent an eerily similar report from another state. This one involved a current NHL coach. He also coaches pee wee hockey as a sideline gig.

Not understanding USA Hockey rules, he screamed at the officiating team from his bench comments that he would never make when he's behind the bench in his NHL job. It was rooting in a rule that is distinctly different in the youth league than what he is used to in the NHL.

It was about coincidental minors.

The player were not coming out until the whistle. That's the USA rule. This guy didn't know the correct rule. That's his bad. Nonetheless, he felt entitled to berate -- outright verbally abuse -- the young amateur officials because he thought he knew more than the refs.

After all, he's an NHL Coach, don't you know.

Taking his hat off his head, yelling at a 20-year-old female college student and her male officiating partner, the NHL coach saw fit to try the exact same line of intimidation that the former NHL official did: "DO YOU KNOW WHO I AM? "

Where do we go from here, people?

I am especially ashamed of my colleague. The Amish shun people. Well, I have asked the NHL Officiating Alumni to delete this guy from our ranks. Shun him. He is a disgrace to NHL officiating and all that we stand for.

This "Ref Almighty" should accept his mild punishment, apologize personally to the young officials involved for his behavior and then take a long look in the mirror. Instead, he's appealing to the local Hockey Governing Group who gave him that minimal punishment.

Because of who he is, we are being told not to believe and back those two young refs. Now it's even more shameful, shameful shameful!

I am not certain the coach should understand that because of "WHO HE IS" he needs to act like a professional. If not, well, the hockey world is watching him as is "Live Barn".

It strikes me that by asking "Do you know who I am?" that these NHL Hockey people have
forgotten who they are and what they represent.

They have abused the credibility and respect that they should always display. Their behavior makes me think that they are just another bully puffing out their chests and trying to
intimidate by bullying. I hate bullies.

I do have one thing to add that I am going to coach my Officials to say in response when the next "Hockey VIP" asks, "Do you know who I am?"

I want my Officials to say this, "NO! Show me your American Express Card."

Then, the official must give this almighty Hockey God a penalty or have the police called to escort the miscreant out of the rink. There is (allegedly) supposed to be a "NO TOLERANCE POLICY" for bullying all sporting events in the US and Canada. Let's start enforcing it.

Are these two "almighty" and bigger than the game because they've worked in the NHL? I don't think so nor should you. To the Officials who were abused, please don't quit because of behavior of these two bullies or any others who feel so entitled. The game and all of us need you.

Besides, nobody likes a bully. I wish I had been there. I TRULY wish I had.


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.
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