The hockey world is a little poorer today, following the deaths of two of the game’s best coaches: Pat Quinn and Viktor Tikhonov. With all the retrospectives pouring in, I thought I would share my own recollections.
Pat was an intense competitor but he was a gentleman away from the ice. It was actually even more enjoyable to talk to him about non-hockey subjects than it was to pick his mind about the game.
He also had a sense of humor him. Here’s my favorite memory of Pat.
Quinn, who was coaching the Toronto Maple Leafs at the time had thrown a piece of gum at Scott Driscoll in a Wednesday game in Toronto and got fined by the NHL. I watched it on TV in Montreal on my way to Buffalo for a Friday night fame followed by a game in Toronto on Saturday.
I worked the first game after Quinn got fined. I recall that I stayed at the Eton Center Marriott, from where I could walk to the rink. On the way, I stopped at Mac’s convenience store and bought six packs of various flavors of gum.
After the anthem, Quinn waited til it was done to walk out of the dressing room and up the walkway from the Leafs’ room. Rick Ley was his assistant.
I skated over and put the gum on the bench. Rick asked what was I doing.
“Give ’em to Pat,” I said. “He’ll have plenty of ammo for me during the game.”
Just before I dropped the puck for the opening faceoff, I turned toward the Maple Leafs bench. Pat was doubled over, laughing. I nodded, he winked and the game was underway.
Another favorite Quinn story: One game, I skated over to him and bantered a bit.
“Pat, I saw that call on TV last night,” I said. “You got screwed.”
Pat thought I was referring to a controversial call from the prior game. He started to talk about that call, ripping the work of the ref from the prior game.
“Oh, no,” I said. “Not that game, Pat.”
He looked at me.
“I was watching one of those NHL Classics game. They showed that hit you had on Orr coming up the boards. Wally Harris screwed you. That was no penalty,” I said.
Pat didn’t skip a beat.
“Yeah, I got screwed there, too,” he said. “But about last night…”
The whole bench broke up, laughing. So did I.
In Tikhonov’s case, I got a taste of what the legendary taskmaster Soviet coach was all about while refereeing the 1987 Canada Cup.
I disallowed two Russian goals. The first was when I called matching minors on Krutov and Murphy for interference on the goalie and roughing. The puck went in and I waved it off. The next was a high stick, and an easy call.
Slava Fetisov skated out to me and said Tikhonov wanted me to talk to him. I turned and he was holding his nose with two fingers up, pointing at me and then holding his nose.
I asked Fetisov, “What’s he saying. Is that Russian?”
“Don’t worry,” he said. “Tikhonov knows you were right. He’s just stalling for some time.”
“OK, Slava,” I said. “But I think he’s talking about you.”
After the game, I was walking out of the arena and Tikhonov was standing in the hall with about ten people around him. He and I caught each others eye.
Tikhonov nodded and walked toward me. I stopped.
He leaned in and said in a very heavy accent, “Good ref.”
Then he went back to his group.
Years later, I would see him a lot when I went to CSKA games. He would always shake hands with me. You don’t have to speak English or Russian to know that it was about mutual respect. and the good of the game.
********* 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.