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One of the first Russian words I learned when I took my current position with the KHL was a commonly used expression for “friend.” Transliterated from the Cyrillic alphabet the word “друг” can easily be mistaken in English for “drug.” The spoken pronunciation sounds a bit more like a “droog” from A Clockwork Orange.

Either, which way, hearing the word the first time or two made me furrow my brow!

The mistranslation can sometimes go the other way, too. I’ve heard that, on a Russian radio station that played older American rock and pop songs around the post-Glasnost era, there was a 1980s era Huey Lewis and the News song that was once mistranslated as “I Want a New Friend.”

Whether that’s true or not, I have no idea. It doesn’t even matter. The point is that language is rife with pitfalls and easy misunderstands. One of the beautiful things about hockey is that the sport — like art or music — is a universal language. It’s something we can appreciate, love, support and nurture.

Recently, the schedule was finalized for a team stars from Russia’s MHL (the junior league) to take a tour of North America to play against American teams. The Russian team will be training at Foxboro as their home away from home. Practices are free and open the public and I would especially recommend for coaches and kids who play hockey to watch a nonstop 90 minutes of speed and agility in the high-tempo training sessions. It is very much worth stopping in.

In terms of game schedule, the Russian Red Stars will play the South Shore Kings U 20 team on the afternoon of Dec. 23. On December 27, Yale provides the opposition. The following night, the Red Stars play Harvard. Tickets cost $10 U.S. for the Harvard game and half of the proceeds stay local to assist youth hockey hopefuls who need assistance with the fees and associated costs of equipment. Tickets are available through the South Shore Kings. I would also be happy to assist anyone who wants to obtain tickets.

On December 30, the Russian team plays West Point. On New Years Eve, the squad plays Babson College in Wellesley, MA. Things wrap up on January 3 with a game against Princeton. Tickets for the Babson game are $10 and half the price goes back to help youths who might need some assistance to offset the cost of continuing to play in their youth programs.

Hockey is for everyone. That’s why I am proud to support events such as these and I also admire the inner-city programs represented by programs such as Hockey in Harlem and the Ed Snider Youth Hockey Foundation in the greater Philadelphia area. If one has the desire to learn to play hockey, the resources should be made available to do so.

As for the participation of the MHL players, I think it’s tremendous. This is about hockey and healthy competition, not politics and government. Think of it as global warming with games on ice.

I have had many friends ask me if it is tough for me — as a proud American who was employed by the NHL for 17 years — to work for the KHL and live in Russia for much of the season. The hard part for me is being away from my family. The hockey part is easy and universal.

Folks have also asked me how I communicate with the KHL officials with whom I interact. Given my very limited Russian, but I am learning; How can I instruct a young referee who speaks no English? How can I talk to league higher-ups or team executives who may have a question or comment?

The answer is very simple: We speak the language of hockey and make ourselves understood.

As I mentioned a couple months ago, I’ve developed a method for instructing officials that works whether their first language is English, French, Russian, Japanese or Tikkanese (Esa Tikkanen’s personal hybrid of Finnish, English and gibberish). Part of it revolves around providing familiar visual cues as I draw on a rink board. Secondly, it involves using simple, clearly enunciated words that related to objects with which everyone is familiar.

For example, when discussing skating techniques for positioning around the net, I may use body language and drawings while saying something such as “BANANA around the net, TELESCOPE into the post, C-CUT backwards in a straight line… crossovers, NYET.”

This is how you speak the language of hockey. The officials with whom I work in Russia catch on quickly to what I’m saying, with no more significant difficulty in grasping the concepts than the North Americans officials I’ve trained and directed.

Their enthusiasm is encouraging for me as a coach and teacher. What’s more, I think that the passion I bring to the rink is something they instantly pick up upon, too. It’s a mutually rewarding relationship that really doesn’t require them to speak English or for me to know much Russian.

When all is said and done, hockey people are one and the same no matter our country of origin. Hockey is our mutual друг.

************ 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 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.

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