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The Officiating Recruitment Crisis Is Real

October 25, 2016, 1:04 AM ET [8 Comments]
Paul Stewart
Blogger •Former NHL Referee • RSSArchiveCONTACT
Follow Paul on Twitter: @paulstewart22

The officiating recruitment shortage in hockey -- as well as other sports -- is very real, and needs to be taken seriously. The recruitment numbers have dwindled significantly and the increasing age of the officials above the median are not fabrications. You can't play hockey without officials and we should all be very worried about this situation both from a quality control and sheer supply-and-demand perspective.

I always believed that I could fix the situation with an honest approach to do better and to "change the outcome" with hard work. I have been told that persistence has been both my strong suit and my flaw; that I tried too hard. I am 63...trying too hard was just my way to get past the discrimination that I faced, including from some of the bosses that were in the way of my achieving my goals.

Now I have new challenges and new reasons to keep going. One of the things that keeps me moving onward in this sport is trying to draw attention to the situation we have with officials, all the while trying to recruit and train men and women who have what it takes to be referees and linesmen.

Here's a fundamental issue: I often try to encourage current players and those who recently stopped playing to give officiating a try. However, I am aware of one of big reasons why people, especially kids, do NOT do it: they witness all the abuse that gets heaped on officials by coaches (and, at lower levels, by overzealous parents) and they don't want any part of it.

How do we change that? All the rink signs in the world reminding spectators that the officials are, in fact, human beings are not going to change a thing, nor are zero tolerance rules about abuse of officials, unless people realize that young officials (just like young players) are developing and have a learning curve to navigate.

In the bigger picture, I will not dispute that we need more, better, younger, fitter, smarter people who can take a challenge and understand their role as officials. So, once again, I will put out a challenge.

For all you heroes that coulda, woulda, shoulda been stars as players but you hurt your knee, or the coach didn't like you or someone stole your equipment out of your car or any other of those bogus excuses that you have been telling people all these years, come on out and put it on the line.

Hey, you officiating experts in the stands and pressbox, can YOU pass a rule book test? Could you hack it in an officiating seminar? I cordially invite you to find out. Just fill out a 3X5 index card with everything you know about officiating from your vast experience. Then turn in the blank card along with your registration fee and learn what it's like to work your way up from scratch.

Hey, folks. Give it a shot. It's better than Vegas or Foxwoods, and then we will all know if you have what it takes. See you in the Breakfast Club.


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.
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