One of the biggest changes in pro hockey over the last few decades has been the sheer size of many of the people on the ice. Back when I was playing and early in my refereeing career, my 6-foot-1, 195 pound frame was considered pretty big. Nowadays, it would be average sized.
These days, people hardly bat an eye when there’s a 6-foot-4, 220-pound player on the ice.
He’s above average sized but there are bigger players out there in the league. Back when I was playing, someone that size was monstrous. That’s how longtime NHL defenseman Jerry Korab got the nickname “King Kong.” He was huge and he played a tough and physical brand of hockey that could be downright intimidating.
I learned about that firsthand one night in 1980 as a member of the Quebec Nordiques. Two nights after my infamous stick fight with Bobby Schmautz in Colorado, we were in Los Angeles to play the Kings.
I had a great time in LA during that trip. There was an off day between games against the Rockies and Kings, and I spent the day off with a tour of the Queen Mary and a birthday dinner courtesy of my three great teammates, Jamie Hislop, Reggie Thomas and Bernie Saunders.
Then we played the Kings the next day. I loved played at the Forum and even got to play against my old pal Steve Carlson (one of the Hanson brothers of Slap Shot fame). Everything was great until I literally ran into King Kong.
Korab, who had been recently traded from the Buffalo Sabres to the Kings, lined me up for a clean hip check. I scrambled to jump and avoid contact, but I was a little too late. I ended up jumping onto his back with my knees on his shoulders.
That was precarious enough. Then Korab, with his massive strength, straightened up to his full height with me still clinging to his back in nearly a fireman’s carry position.
I’m not afraid to admit that I was momentarily petrified as I looked down. It was a long way down to the ice.
“Jesus! Don’t drop me!” I yelled.
Laughing heartily, Korab bumped me off his shoulders gently. Basically, he shrugged me off like a bull swatting a fly. Now we were both laughing so hard we had to skate to our respective benches to be greeted by our amused teammates.
I was just grateful King Kong let me go. He could have planted me head-first in the ice if he so desired, because I was totally at his mercy.
By the way, during that trip, Nordiques head Jacques Demers had a special surprise for me. As a birthday present (likely for Hislop), he told me I was NOT allowed to room with Jamie as had been our usual practice. Instead, Jacques booked me the presidential suite at the hotel next to the Forum, overlooking the race track. He also had a huge fruit basket and a bottle of champagne sent to my room.
The attached note Jacques dictated to the hotel said “Happy Birthday from your coach and teammates. Merci for the good job last night…. Jacques.”
Is there any wonder why I would have skated through a wall for Jacques Demers? Hell, I even jumped onto King Kong’s back.
****** 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.