National Hockey League officials spend their lives on the road during the season. There is no such thing as a homestand when you’re an official. In practical terms, that means you simply work through illnesses and injuries whenever possible.
If a situation arises where an official need attention on the job, it is the home team’s training staff that tends to him.
During my refereeing career, many of my most cherished friendships were with the trainers, equipment managers and arena employees. Those folks do a great job, and always treated me well.
Most readers are probably aware by now of what happened the other night with veteran NHL referee Mike Leggo. Mike, who broke into the NHL in 1996 and worked his 1,000th NHL game earlier this season, did what all my brethren in stripes sometimes have to do: he tried his best to tough it out and work through a game assignment on a night when he wasn’t feeling well.
Usually, such games are worked without incident and no one is the wiser for it. Unfortunately for Leggo, he wound up having an embarrassing situation. He vomited all over the ice and was unable to complete the game.
I sympathize. I had a somewhat similar situation happen early in my officiating career, although it wasn’t due to illness.
Back then, officials wore virtually no protective equipment on the ice. Actually, when traveling by airplane, we could fit the gear beneath the seat in front of us. The elbow pads were like basketball knee pads.
One night in Winnipeg, I refereed a game between the Jets and New York Islanders. Someone drilled a puck that caught me flush on the ulner nerve of my humerus (the “funny bone”). I felt an indescribable level of immediate agony that radiated through my entire body.
All I could do at the moment was exit the ice with the help of an arena employee friend, race up the tunnel as I took off my sweater and try to make a dash for the officials’ room. I made it off the ice, at least, but I could not hold back from spewing.
As I settled down and got my wits about me again, I started to feel human again. I was relieved that I hadn’t just puked in front of an arena full of people and the two teams on the ice.
“Sorry,” I said to my friend. “At least no one but you had to see that!”
“Well, me and them,” he said with a pointing gesture.
I looked where he was pointing. One of television camera men had followed nearby and I was on live television as well as the jumbotron at the arena.
I was mortified, and my face told the tale. Sheepishly, I returned to the ice. I knew I was in for a razzing. Sure enough, legendary Islanders coach Al Arbour was doubled over in laughter after seeing my performance.
“That was one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen!” he said, rubbing his eyes beneath his glasses.
By the way, today is a very special anniversary date in the history of NHL vomiting. Most folks know it as the 35th anniversary of the 1979-80 Philadelphia Flyers winning for the final time — a 4-2 win over the Buffalo Sabres — in their record 35-game unbeaten streak (25-0-10) in the era where the NHL still had tie games.
Ah, but something else happened during that game. Philadelphia starting goalie Pete Peeters got sick on the ice, “decorating” the crease before giving way to Phil Myre (who became the goalie of record in the game).
So there you have it, folks.
********* 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.
In addition to his blogs for HockeyBuzz every Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, Stewart writes a column every Wednesday for the Huffington Post.