Comparing NHL and KHL Officials


Ability is not limited to national borders or the separation created by the ocean. There may be cultural differences on the ice and some stylistic differences between big-rink and smaller rink hockey, but the game of hockey is universal language. It takes the same skill set for an ice hockey official to succeed in top pro league. It also takes proper teaching and coaching.

There are few differences in the top five referees in the NHL and KHL. Their conditioning and skating level as well as rule book knowledge, feel for the game and the presence they convey on the ice are quite similar. After that, the coaching and positioning of all the top ten from both leagues’ staffs is an area that needs work on both fronts. Positioning sells calls in any language, be it English or Russian.

In amateur hockey, the coaching gap is a real chasm. There really is no coaching of officials on the USA level, and I suspect the Canadian Hockey League is likely the same. Instead, there is just a bunch of silly, “don’t do this” and “don’t even try that” edicts that hamper the freedom of movement that all officials should employ. The IIHF does this, too. You’ve heard me say this before: Skate to where you need to skate to see what you need to see.

When the positioning aspect of officiating is not coached properly, if at all, the number of missed calls increases significantly. This is a big part of the root cause of the “inconsistent officiating” that people gripe about endlessly. Since coming to the KHL, I have heavily stressed the importance of working with our officials on their positioning and providing genuine coaching.

Russia is a country nearly twice as big as the U.S. and it’s a chore to find someone to teach and coach the Russian officials. On the other hand, at least the KHL league brass is aware of the issue and is committed to improvement. I would not still be here in Russia if league president Medvedev was not serious about raising the standard of the on-ice officiating. We have improved rapidly. It is my hope that if KHL, ECAC, ISL gets observed, people will follow us just because we are doing it better than everyone else.

Overall, I would say the linesmen in the NHL are currently better on the whole than the ones in the KHL. The NHL has a lot of linesmen who are big, physically strong and in outstanding condition. This is something we are working on in the KHL. I will hasten to add they we certainly do have some KHL linesmen who are outstanding and could work any game, any time, in any rink and any league (including the NHL).


I would like to see an exchange of officials like a “Dancing with the Stars”type exposure just to show people what good Officials should look like regardless of where they are from. This would kill all those perceptions that Russians and Americans don’t know what they are doing. The NHL holds a death grip on the IIHF for the selection of Olympic officials. The NHL officiating department is dominated by Canadians; opportunities for Americans are limited and ones for Europeans are non-existent. Meanwhile, the KHL has some foreign officials and we are working to find more.

Overall, it’s the bottom five on both the NHL and KHL staffs that need a good hard look: there are guys with subpar conditioning and skating, others who are losing speed and adding weight. It’s not at all a good recipe for longevity.

Change creates growth and competition. That is true in any market, language or league.

KHL Officials Training Camp 2014: My 40th in pro hockey, 31st as an official.

********* 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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