Not too long ago, I had a KHL “boss” ask me “Who are you loyal to here in the KHL?”
My response was simple. I said, “I have appreciation for Mr. Timchenko and Mr. Medvedev, The Chairman and the President of this league for giving me the chance to work here in Russian hockey. But my loyalty is to the game.
The small aspects of the game, the nuances: those are the aspects that can make or break an official. It’s the attention to detail, showing up with 100% effort every night, being honest, working sweating and actually caring about what you do. It’s making the tough call because it’s the right call.
I won’t lie to you: In every league, there is a stratification of officials just as there is a stratification of player. There are a few genuine stars. There are a lot of basically competent but unspectacular guys who succeed under the right circumstances and fail if put in position to fail. There are also some guys who have no business being out there and would be gone if present and future ability were the only criteria.
In the business of hockey — right up to the NHL level — there is always more than meets the eye to rosters and assignments, including playoffs.
People I know often ask me to answer this question: “If you knew you weren’t going to get to the Stanley Cup Finals all those years you worked in the NHL after John McCauley died, how did you get yourself up to ref night after night even with no chance to get that Final?”
It’s the same answer as my response to the KHL boss: It’s because I owed loyalty to the game. That was my motivator.
I could control my destiny as far as I could which included giving a 100% Paul Stewart effort every night. If the bosses had me pegged into a corner, that would be their choice but I wouldn’t make it easy for them by fudging a game just because I might personally be unhappy. I owed the players, the fans, my brother officials and especially me, my best effort.
********* 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.