Non-Sports Lessons for Hockey and Life


Last night in Moscow, I had some time to kill before the start of the off-ice conditioning tests for our KHL-hopeful officials. I sat at a stadium that kind of reminded me of a Russian version of Dilboy Field in Somerville.

Sitting there on a soft summer’s night, I watched people pushing strollers around the walkway, others playing tennis, and were joggers on the track.

U wandered past the tennis pavilion and what should I see but a baseball game going on between two Russian teams of nine. Abner Doubleday would be proud. They looked the part in their uniforms and there was some raw talent.

No, an athletic comeback did not enter my hip, oops, I mean mind.

I went back to the track to watch our the Moscow Officiating Federation and MHL put the 20 boys through their paces: a two-mile timed run, a 30-second timed situp test, 30-second timed pushups and then chin ups on a bar.

Everyone was calm and relaxed having a great old time until I wandered over with my clipboard, pen and stopwatch. The pace quickened. Clipboards and the other signs of the “boss” being around will ruin a pleasant evening.

Afterwards, I told the KHL President that, out of the 20 guys who have skated and tested these last three days, we might get two or three for the KHL. After three days of watching them skate, watching them run, just watching them do everything, it’s easy to tell who the good athletes are. There are also some who need to get to know Jenny Craig on a first-name basis.

There are just some guys who look the part. They present that when they come onto the ice or are in the middle of a group of 20. It’s easy to spot the good athletes especially in the two mile run and the situp and pushup tests. It’s the skating with style, speed and grace that really separates them from the pack.

It’s also the sound. When a really good skater goes up and down the ice…you can hear the smooth cuts his skates make. You can feel and sense the power of his strides.They used to say of Gordie Howe that other players knew he was coming because of the distinctive sound of his skates.

I saw two obvious candidates for the KHL. One is about 6-foot-4. His brother is one of the KHL’s youngest and top refs. Another, a linesman, just oozes power. He is average size, not huge but he’s cut, can skate and has a look of confidence in his eyes.

There was also a third candidate that I kept going back to in my mind. He’s in good shape. He has strong legs. He skates well. He had good scores on all the tests. He’s also about 5-foot-8.

“I like this kid,” I told the other league bosses in attendance. “I like his look.”

“No,” they said dismissively. “Too small.”

“He hung in just fine among all the big guys,” I said.

“Too small,” they repeated.

I find that a bit frustrating. I don’t believe that an official or player should be automatically dismissed simply because of where he stands on a height chart. Look at the entire array of physical skills and mental agility and toughness. If there’s an equivalent “big guy,” then yes, go with the bigger candidate. If the small guy is better, he’s the better candidate.

Listen, I worked for years with Kerry Fraser. He’s about 5-foot-8 at maximum. Size was never a factor when he reffed. He was a Hall of Fame caliber official. In today’s NHL, Kelly Sutherland is one of the more undersized refs but also one of the better ones overall and a tremendous skater.

I suppose these guys never heard of Ned “the Doctor” Bunyon, who played at BC and reffed for years. When he retired from the ice, he was The Mister Keebler of officiating. Ned kept turning out good officials for many different Leagues, as fast as the Keebler elves churned out tasty cookies.

Giles Threadgold was another bantam at 5″6″ but he had panache and command despite his size. My 5-foot-6 grandfather was a U.S. Hockey Hall of Famer. My dad was the same height, and was a highly respected collegiate officials. The Stewarts officiated successfully at all levels in football, baseball and hockey including the top pro leagues in the latter two sports.

Listen kids and all you undersized aspiring officials and players, the next time someone says”you’re too small to make it,” tell them to save up their money. The next time they see you, they’ll have to buy a ticket to get in. That’s what I used to tell people who told me I lacked the talent to play and officiate in the NHL.

It’s truly the size of the fight in the dog that matters.

********* 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 is an officiating and league discipline consultant for the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) and serves as director of hockey officiating for the Eastern College Athletic Conference (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.This post originally appeared on and we thank them for permission to rebroadcast it here.

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