Don’t ‘Manage’ the Game, Officiate It


My eighth season as the ECAC’s director of hockey officiating has started. Simultaneously, I am in my third season of working with officials in the KHL and its feeder leagues. Before that, I was an on-ice referee from 1983 through 2003, including 17 years in the NHL.

During that span of 31 years, I have been told by numerous people that it’s important for officials to “manage” the game.

I beg to differ. Officials shouldn’t manage. They should officiate. If I wanted to hire managers, I’d hang a sign that said “Managers Wanted, Inquire Within. Must Have Skates.”

Managers, well, manage. They compromise. They worry about the appearance of balancing the scales. Often, they wind up splitting the baby in half like the Biblical judgment by King Solomon; except that they actually go through with it to negative consequences rather than employing psychology to arrive at a correct and just decision in tough situations.

I want officials, not managers. I want referees and linesmen who make decisive black-and-white rulings even when there is a lot of gray area in a tough situation. I want tough-minded arbiters who are quick on their feet and quick with their minds while showing calm under pressure.

As I spelled out in yesterday’s blog, the game also needs officials who can keep up with the physical rigors of the sport. Time waits for nobody. I dealt with it late in my own active officiating career. My body was breaking down on me and I had to be honest with myself that I could no longer keep up the way I used to. My mind was still sharp. The instincts and hockey sense were still there. But the ol’ hips didn’t lie and I needed to listen to my body.

Time marches on: it’s as simple and inevitable as that. To those that have served as officials in the past, I sincerely thank you for your service. However, just like an older veteran player who may no longer be able to sustain the pacing of the game, an official’s physical ability deteriorates over time.

If I (or another assignor) has told you we don’t have assignments for you, don’t take it personally or as a sign that your past work is not appreciated. As I wrote, time waits for no man. I dealt with it and so will you.

Ultimately, I have to make decisions based on the needs of the game using my experience in judging an official’s ability to do the job. The physical, mental and decision-making demands are very, very high in this profession. That’s why not many folks can do it and why even veterans can’t take these abilities for granted.

If you aren’t with us, then the decision has been made. It’s not a pleasant part of my job. However, just like when I used to have to make tough calls on the ice and deal with the fallout, I am being paid to make decisions and judge. It’s not personal. It’s hockey.

****** 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.

Scott Harrigan
Your #1 source for community and amateur sports related news on Vancouver Island, British Columbia and beyond! Send stories to