Living on the Air in Cincinnati

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Yesterday, a HockeyBuzz reader sent me a link to Youtube video of a Cincinnati Stingers 6-4 road win against the Indianapolis Racers during the 1977-78 season. I was asked if I remembered this game.

Well, no, I didn’t remember this particular game except for recallign from the context of the broadcast footage that it was a game late in the season, I was not in the lineup and our team rallied back to win after trailing by scores of 1-0, 2-1, 3-2, and 4-3.

But I certainly remember my time in Cincinnati fondly. 

Far and away, the happiest time of my professional career was my first season in Cincy. I made a lot of friends on the team whom I remained close with for many years after our playing careers, especially the likes of Jamie Hislop (who later became an assistant coach with the Calgary Flames during my refereeing career), Pat “Whitey” Stapleton, Butch Deadmarsh and Robbie Ftorek (a fellow Massachusetts native whom I’d already known for years). Another one of my teammates and friends was Barry Melrose.

We all would have done anything for coach Jacques Demers. It was after Jacques left and joined the Quebec Nordiques (where he later brought me along to play in the NHL after the WHA-NHL merger) that my relationship with the Stingers took a downturn. I did not like or trust Floyd Smith, who replaced Jacques. Ditto Al Karlander, for whom I briefly played during the 1979-80 season Cincinnati joined the Central Hockey League after the WHA went out of business.

As for Cincinnati itself, I loved living and playing hockey in that city. I was very happy when, long after the demise of the Stingers and the NHL’s short-lived Cleveland Barons, big league hockey returned to Ohio when the NHL added the Columbus Blue Jackets as an expansion team.

For part of the time I I lived in Cincinnati, I had a beautiful apartment in a grand old home in Mt. Adams. Socially, I hung out at The Blind Lemon for drinks and frequent The Rookwood Pottery for dinner. The Blind Lemon had an outdoor bonfire in its courtyard, that was like a little touch of Vermont in Ohio.

During my playing days in Cincinnati, I befriended members of the Reds baseball team, including manager Sparky Anderson and star infielder Pete Rose. I hung out a few times with Rose at “Sleep Out Louie’s.” I also drank a few at the “Lucy’s in the Sky” with Sparky Anderson, who frequently guest DJed there. Lucy’s in the Sky looked like it had come straight out of Saturday Night Fever.

Back in those days, I dressed in a way that looked very much like Paul Newman’s wardrobe in Slap Shot or John Travolta in the opening “walking down the street” scene in Saturday Night Fever. I had a short leather jacket and bell-bottom pants. I even owned a pair of platform shoes at one point. Ah, life in the 1970s.

Side note: Rose and I got along well. We were casual friends back in the late 1970s to early 1980s. I admired the way he played baseball and he was a gregarious and outgoing type like myself. When I later hosted a call-in radio show for a brief time between my playing and officiating careers, Pete readily agreed to be a guest on the show.

As for Rose’s subsequent scandal that led to the all-time hit leader’s lifetime ban from baseball, this is what I can say: Unfortunately, it turned out that Rose’s undoing was a combination of gambling addiction and hubris. I know of other sports people who were destroyed by the same things.

After joining the Quebec Nordiques organization, I ended up going back to the Stingers (now in the CHL) at the start of the 1979-80 start the season after I did not get an NHL roster spot with the Nords out of training camp. I barely played. In early November, the team took a road trip and I was told to stay back because I would not be dressing in any of the games.

Knowing that fighting was my stock in trade in hockey, I had been working out as a boxer in a Cincinnati gym where i was the only Caucasian who frequented the gym. I even got to spar with future champion Aaron Pryor and other heavyweights and cruiserweights. That experience absolutely helped me in my enforcer role on the ice.

During my time living in Cincy, I greatly enjoyed taking an excursion to Dayton to tour the National Museum of the United States Air Force. There was also a good music scene. I was even in attendance at the infamous Riverfront Coliseum concert by the Who in December 1979 where 11 people were trampled and killed as people rushed to be at the head of the line for the first-come, first-served floor seats at the festival-seating event.

In previous blogs, I have talked about some of the memorable fights I had on the ice while playing for Cincy, and of my first meeting with Wayne Gretzky (then a member of the Indianapolis Racers for coach Whitey Stapleton).

One of my favorite stories from my Cincy days, however, happened on a night when I didn’t even play. Demers summoned me during a pregame warmup to tell me he’d decided to scratch me for the game, but that I could finish the warmup.

I stepped back out on the ice to skate the rest of the warmup. Suddenly, an idea came to me. I threw on the brakes, spraying snow in every direction. I saw Glen Sather sitting on the Edmonton bench, making out his lineup card, and the zamboni idling by the open gate. The driver had stepped off and walked away while waiting for the rest of the players to leave the ice.

Since my playing services weren’t going to be needed that night, I decided to make myself useful to the game in another way.

In full uniform, I hopped aboard the zamboni, backed it out on the ice and started to resurface it. As I drove past the Edmonton bench, I blared the horn and smiled at Sather. He was so started that he nearly jumped out of his shoes.

A photo of yours truly driving the zamboni made the front page of the Cincinnati newspapers the next morning. Jacques probably wasn’t too happy, but ownership liked the extra bit of publicity. No such thing as bad publicity, right? Especially when it’s free!

It was always my childhood dream to play in the NHL. As much as I loved Cincinnati and was thrilled to play in the WHA when it was the “other” top league, the NHL dream never left me during my Stingers days. Without my time with the Stingers, I probably never would gotten my subsequent chance to make my dream come true with the Nordiques.

I was very happy to live on the air — and the ice — in Cincinnati. I’m also glad the old Stingers fans out there still think of me once in awhile.

****** 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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