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It’s often been said that environment plays a part in who you are or become. There are genetic aspects, too, but there is also Pavlov’s learned behavior. Where I grew up in Boston, there was little choice but to learn early in life to be a fighter…. unless you wanted to simply hand over your coat or the hard-earned dollar in your pocket.

Back in 1967 and 1968 when I played high school hockey, we play 20 games and mostly on outdoor rinks. Only a few school in the ISL had covered rinks and certainly it was a reason why they might have better teams. They attracted players who wanted to and were destined to play in college hockey. Pros? Hardly likely, but a few guys like Danny Bolduc (Harvard University, WHA’s New England Whalers, Detroit Red Wings, Calgary Flames) made it to the pro level after good prep-school and college hockey careers.

Keep this in mind, too: Until the years following the Miracle on Ice in Lake Placid, most American kids dared not even think of the NHL. I was one of the relatively few who dared to dream that dream, and found a way to make it. Meanwhile, most of the Canadian kids who came here to play university hockey played 70 to 100 games in Junior B (while we played our 20 games, which were like tea and crumpets by comparison). Even College vs Junior A played only 25 games. That also had a lot to do with why American kids were generally not looked on as a viable talent pool in those days.

Change is not always a bad thing, my friends. It gladdens my heart to see such a wide pool of American kids making it to the NHL as players (if only the doors were as open to American officials!). The quality of the National Team Development Program, the local leagues at all levels and the ever-increasing growth of programs outside the traditional hockey hotbed regions of New England and Minnesota has been great to see.

Today’s American players are growing up in a whole different world than the ones from my generation. However, there are certain things that will never change.

I tell kids this:Don’t quit. Stay at it and elbow your way into the leagues. They won’t forever look past a guy that can skate and keeps himself in top shape. The rest, you can learn. Sometimes, even I forget that hard-learned lesson and I let things get to me. Then I get re-grounded and remember how I — and others who have achieved longevity in their professional lives — got there in the first place.

Remember: Every no brings you one step closer to a yes. Keep at it.

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