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What's a Standby Ref to Do?

May 20, 2016, 6:35 AM ET [4 Comments]
Paul Stewart
Blogger •Former NHL Referee • RSSArchiveCONTACT
Follow Paul on Twitter: @paulstewart22

Every once in awhile, a standby official has to enter a Stanley Cup playoff game. The standby is expected to be in uniform and waiting in the wings. The only delay should be to put on skates.

The back-story here is an interesting one.

Years ago, Ron Asselstine was the standby official in a playoff game. My old buddy, linesman Pat "Dapper" Dapuzzo, got injured and had to exit the game. As was customary in those days, Ron was in his street clothes up in the press box. Before he could enter the game, Asselstine had to hurry down to officials' room, change into his uniform and then walk out to the ice.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman was not pleased by the lengthy delay and ordered a change in the procedure. From then on, standby officials were expected to dressed in full uniform -- minus their skates, of course -- and to be near the rink to minimize the delay.

Honestly, for the good of the teams and the fans, it was a good change to make. For the standbys, though, it meant a lot of mostly tedious nights.

A few nights later, Dapper (sporting a black eye) and I were the standbys for a playoff game in Toronto. We knew the executive chef at the arena, and he'd become a friend of ours. He felt bad for us and sent down one marvelous dish after another -- lobster tail, prime rib, you name it. Before our brother officials returned to the room, we'd hidden the plates. By the midway point of the game, we were stuffed to the gills! It was a good thing we weren't needed on the ice.

Another time as a standby in Montreal, I ordered down some hot dogs -- the Chien Chaud there is famous for good reason; a hot dog like no other. I've heard people say those hot dogs are almost worth the trip to Montreal by itself. I don't know if I'd take it that far, but they are damn good. Even people who don't normally like hot dogs usually enjoy the famous Chien Chaud in Montreal.

I probably could have gotten further with my boss way back when if I has suppressed my fun-loving and gregarious personality to appease him but I wouldn't have enjoyed my career nearly as much. Everyone else knew I was all business on the ice.

Anyway, I can't tell you how many games I was a standby in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. It was a lot. It happened so frequently that the other guys took to calling me by the tongue-twisting nickname of Stewy Stanley Standby. Younger readers can just call me Triple S for short, but just remember I had the sobriquet long before the WWE's Paul Levesque had his "Hunter Hearst Helmsley" had his ring name shortened to the punchier and catchier Triple H.

In all the times I served as a standby official, there was one and only time I actually ended up being needed in the game. It was a playoff game in Pittsburgh in a 1997 first-round series between the Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers. Oddly enough, I actually ended up serving as a substitute linesman instead of a referee.

I borrowed a linesman sweater. Since I was a referee by training and experience, NHL Director of Hockey Operations Jim Gregory -- a man that I like and hold in the highest of respect -- told me I should also don a helmet for my own protection. I did as told.

Despite the unfamiliar sweater and the bucket on my head, the Penguins fans instantly recognized me. Boos and "Stewart sucks! Stewart sucks!" chants immediately rained down as my entry was shown on the arenavision screen at the Igloo. I wasn't the least bit angry. It was pretty humorous and I've always been able to laugh at myself.

Anyway, I joked about it later on with Gary Bettman. He could relate as someone who has himself grown quite used to boos, vociferous chants and other assorted crowd pleasantries whenever he appears on the ice.

"Uh, Gary," I said. "I don't think taking the officials' names off our sweaters has worked that well. Those Pittsburgh fans sure seemed to know who I was -- and I was disguised as a linesman."

Gary laughed.


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.

Today, Stewart serves as director of hockey officiating for the ECAC.

The longtime referee heads Officiating by Stewart, a consulting, training and evaluation service for officials. Stewart also maintains a busy schedule as a public speaker, fund raiser and master-of-ceremonies for a host of private, corporate and public events. As a non-hockey venture, he is the owner of Lest We Forget.

In addition to his blogs for HockeyBuzz every Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, Stewart writes a column every Wednesday for the Huffington Post.
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