It’s Hockey, Nothing Personal

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Follow Paul on Twitter: @paulstewart22

Yesterday, I rode the Moscow metro going from CSKA’s home rink to downtown. While on the train, I saw a father and son. The dad was lugging his son’s hockey gear. The son sported a Dynamo Moscow jacket and a Pittsburgh Penguins’ Evgeni Malkin hat.

Hockey people enjoy running into other hockey people, regardless of the locale or their language barrier.

In my best Russian (which is still none too good, but I am working at it), I said hello and asked where they were going. They told me they were on the way back from the son’s hockey practice.

Putting politics, cultural differences and language barriers aside, I felt a kinship to the hockey dad and his boy. The gleam in the kid’s eyes and the dad’s pride standing beside him transcended everything else. Hockey was the bond that formed a connection but this really was about a much bigger bond of being a father and remembering what it was like to be in the son’s place, too.

Something else to keep in mind: Hockey is a global sport that has a powerful effect on all that play or just love the game.

Lately, I have been advised by some of my friends, caring people, that I should temper my words a bit, especially when I am dealing with NHL subjects. They think I have some bitterness toward the League that as a kid I dreamed to join in any capacity.

That is simply not so! I hold no malice in my heart. On the contrary, I love the NHL. No one was ever prouder than myself to pull on an NHL uniform as a player. I cherish my 17 years as a referee in the League. If I sound critical and even angry at times, it because I care so much about the League doing what’s right for the good of the game.

For the record, there is not a war of words or any type of conflict between myself and the League. I have spelled out numerous times how much I like and respect Gary Bettman and Bill Daly, the great value I place in my friendships with people who work for teams around the League and, of course, the well-being and success of my brethren in stripes.

The things the NHL does have a trickle-down effect on every other league at every level. Leagues throughout the world many take their cue from what policies and procedures the NHL prescribes. Good and great for them. I have no issues with that.

There is, however, a matter of my own ideas and my own experience. My views have been honed through countless hours of watching games, watching players, watching coaches and memorizing officials. I’m in the third generation of a four-generation hockey family. The Stewarts have seen this sport from all angles and at all levels.

So, if people think that I don’t respect the NHL, they are dead wrong. I also respect the KHL and what our league president and owners are trying to do, too. The NHL was my longtime employer and now I am an ECAC and KHL employee.

However, my ultimately loyalty belongs to the game itself. That is the one true love — apart from my family — that has sustained me, nurtured and energized me and given me a reason to get up in the morning.

For this reason, I can’t just gulp the Kool Aid and go along with the party line every time an edict comes out of New York or Toronto. For example, the League may trumpet it’s new diving/embellishment rule as a crackdown when it’s really a weakening of a tougher rule that went unenforced. Some folks have meekly gone along with the NHL spin that it’s a “toughening” of the rules. I know differently, and will say so.

Say what you will, but keep in mind that there’s a bigger picture. I look at the NHL’s impact globally and right down to the grass roots of the game in our own backyard rinks. How will the NHL’s policies and actions impact all of our games?

.

In my capacity as ECAC director of officiating, I once got into it after a game with a coach from a collegiate team. This coach is someone I have known a long time and respect for a tenure marked with championships. We went at it, nose to nose. He was advocating for his team and I was fighting on behalf of mine (the officials).

Many people were shocked, because it happened out in the open. But it was never something personal. It was a hockey argument. Later on, at the Coaches’ Convention in Naples, we got together. Over a beer or two, we chuckled and talked about everything under the sun. I don’t think hockey even entered the discussion, and certainly wasn’t the main topic.

Here’s my point: Friction is part of our game. Those of us who achieve longevity in this sport come to accept that fact. You aren’t always going to agree with everything, maybe even most of the time you wonder why they do it. At the end of the day, you are still bound together as colleagues and friends.

As for myself, I have always lived by a Shakespearean mantra. To thine own self be true.

************ 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, while also maintaining 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.

Stewart is currently working with a co-author on an autobiography.This post originally appeared on www.hockeybuzz.com and we thank them for permission to rebroadcast it here.

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