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Recently, I did an interview with a Russian reporter about the development of young officials in the MHL (Russian junior league). I was asked about the value of developing officials at that level before they move on to the KHL.
My answer to this question would be the same for leagues in North America: It’s great practice for officials to hone their skills in the lower leagues.
Young players tend to make a lot of mistakes, which means there a lot of judgments to make. It also gives officials a chance to “grow up” with some of the top players, as they will keep crossing paths as they respectively move up the ladder.
That was certainly the case in my own officiating career. While working my way up to become a full-time official in the NHL, I got to know the tendencies of many future NHL players from games I worked in lower leagues. I knew who I could usually trust, and which guys I needed to keep an eye on at all times.
Claude Lemieux was a good example of the latter type of player. During his stint with Sherbrooke in the AHL, I got to know real fast what he was all about: embellishments, cheap shots, and everything else that went with his undeniable ability to score clutch goals.
During the 1985-86 season, I was working a game in Moncton between the New Brunswick Hawks and the Sherbrooke Canadiens. One of the linesmen was a local guy — I don’t remember his first name, unfortunately, but his surname was White. The latter official had a broken wrist and was wearing a soft cast during the game.
During the course of the game, a fight broke out between Lemieux and a Hawks player. As the fight reached what should have been its conclusion, the cast-wearing White had the impossible task of trying to wrestle the 6-foot-1, 225-pound Lemieux off his opponent.
Lemieux, shrugged off White, who got rolled over to the ice and pinned down in the pile, howling in pain. Instinctively, I stepped in.
“Arrête!” I shouted at Lemieux, who was bring up his fist. “Ne faites pas ça!” (Stop! Don’t do that!”)
Lemieux kept punching. With my own adrenaline pumping, I yanked Lemieux up, lifted him and physically dumped him into the penalty box.
So, yeah, you might say that Claude and I were already pretty familiar with one another by the time were in the NHL together. Of course, with many other players, the interactions were much less confrontational.
************ 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 www.hockeybuzz.com and we thank them for permission to rebroadcast it here.