The Joys of Skating in the Great Outdoors

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The other day, Brad Marsh wrote an entertaining blog for HockeyBuzz about his backyard rink (or, in his case, front yard rink) growing up in Ontario. It brought back a lot of my own memories.

When I was growing up in Massachusetts in the years before Bobby Orr came to the Bruins, indoor rinks like the Boston Arena and Boston Garden were venues that were largely reserved for pro and major collegiate hockey.

Community skating venues were in the outdoors, and the hockey that kids played was largely of the frozen pond or backyard rink variety. The hours flew by in those games.

Many of my happiest memories are of outdoor skating and outdoor games. Public skating veterans know this drill quite well, I’m sure: everyone skating clockwise until the ice started to get too snowy and then everyone skating counter-clockwise.

To this very day, I can close my eyes and see my late father, Bill Stewart Jr., getting the garden hose out and flood the backyard rink. I will also say this: My present-day 90’X40′ home rink is some of the best ice I ever skated on in my life.

As a lover of outdoor hockey, I have enjoyed the way various leagues in North America and in Europe have returned the game to its outdoor roots a few times a year. These events were not invented by or exclusive to the National Hockey League by any stretch of the imagination, but I find the Winter and Heritage Classic series to be a lot of fun.

Back in 2010, I refereed the AT&T Bruins Legends Classic game at Fenway Park the day after the Winter Classic between the Bruins and Flyers. I had a blast. When we first took the ice, I noticed that linesman Don Garcia had neglected to wear gloves. I looked at him disapprovingly.

“Rookie!” I said, shaking my head.

During a stoppage of play in the Legends game, there were a couple players on Team Gold and Team Black casually talking about one of the college football bowl games they had watched on New Year’s. I got a chuckle from the others nearby when I threatened to dispatch them on minor penalties for wrongsportsmanlike conduct. Photo from Misconmike’s Flickr page

Back in January of this year, I was in Davos, Switzerland, taking part in the hockey events overlapping with the World Economic Forum, including the charity outdoor Old Timers’ Game. I had the opportunity to room with Czech hockey legend Milan Novy, who was one of the greats of European and international hockey before the fall of communism in the former Czechoslovakia.

Nowadays, Old Timers’ games are called Legends’ Games. Cue the George Carlin routines on the softening of language to mask the fact that we’re a bunch of old guys skating. Fair enough. But Milan, who comes from the same industrial town as Jaromir Jagr and a host of other Czech greats, is a genuine legend. Apart from his tremendous international accomplishments, he would have been an NHL star, too, had he been born a few years later.

As for myself, well, some have said I’m a legend in my own mind. Does that count?

First of all, as long as I keep skating, I’m a happy man. Secondly, I have always believed in my heart that hockey — and sport in general — is an international language that transcends barriers in amazing ways.

Among others, I was in Davos with the president of Tartarstan, the deputy prime minister of Russia and CEOs from a host of multi-national corporations. Somehow, this ne’er do well Dorchester kid is in the middle of this wearing a striped shirt.  photo BemdPfECIAAcZds_zpsf6f7afec.jpg

********* 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.

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