Frank Udvari: One of the All-Time Greats

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Hockey Hall of Fame inducted referee Frank Udvari passed away yesterday at the age of 90. He was a mentor to me and many, many other officials. When I was a young referee just starting out my officiating career, I got a great piece of advice from Udvari.

He told me, “Remember yourself as a player, and how you felt during a game.

If an opponent does something to you that you would get ticked off at, then that is a penalty. Forget all the other things about trying to read the play because you will end up over-officiating. Just feel the play.”

During his active officiating career, no one had a better read on the game than Frank Udvari.

Frank, who was the AHL’s chief of refereeing for many years and had also been supervisor of NHL officials, knew what he was talking about from decades of experience. As an active referee, he only missed two games (on a weekend where both his father and wife had taken seriously ill) in an NHL career that spanned from the early 1950s to mid 1960s.

Udvari got a lot of the league’s toughest assignments, getting assigned to Original Six era rivalry games that stood a good chance beforehand of getting pretty wild. That’s how it came to pass that he was the referee of the game that ultimately led to the Richard Riot in Montreal. Incidentally, the riot was not triggered by anything Frank did.

Richard got high-sticked by Boston’s Hal Laycoe and Udvari called a delayed penalty. In retaliation, rather than fighting, Richard swung his stick into Laycoe’s face and shoulders and then punched linesman Cliff Thompson twice in the face as Thompson tried to pull his away from Laycoe. It was the second time that season that Richard had physically attacked an official. The riots broke out a few days later after the NHL suspended Richard for the rest of the 1954-55 season.

At any rate, Udvari’s advice to me was something that I never forgot during my career: I used the baseline of how I would have reacted to a situation as a player. Now, anyone who ever watched me play or referee, knows that I was pretty energetic and exuberant on the ice. I am someone who believes the game should be emotional and players should be spontaneous.

Where as a referee did I draw the line? I applied the “Udvari Rule” and looked at the time on the clock, the score of the game and the significance of the game. Here’s an example of the Udvari Rule in a discretionary situation.

Kerry Clark, the brother of Wendel Clark, was a hard-nosed career minor league player who racked up a lot of penalty minutes and not a lot of goals. I could relate to that. However, something I did not like was the pre-planned goal celebration that he did whenever he scored a goal, regardless of the situation.

I was working an AHL goal one time where Kerry scored a completely meaningless goal in a meaningless game. He proceeded to moonwalk all the way across the ice in celebration. Standing on the ice watching him, my face got red and I balled up my fist.

As a player, if he had done that against my team, I would have made a beeline for Clark with my stick and gloves dropped; it would have made zero difference to me that it was during a stoppage in play. I’d have been tossed from the game, quite possibly suspended, and would not have regretted it for a moment.

As a referee, all I could do was watch him do it. Then I gave him a misconduct. I knew Frank Udvari approved.

****** 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 www.hockeybuzz.com and we thank them for permission to rebroadcast it here.

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