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The hockey world is a small one. It’s the rare person whose had longevity in the sport with whom my path has not crossed somewhere along the way even if we were in in the NHL at the same time. That’s especially true for the guys (and women) who arise from the New England hockey scene.
I pretty much know ’em all, as well as their dads, siblings who’ve played and, in later years, their kids.
I have known Peter Laviolette for years. We haven’t directly crossed paths much in recent times, but he’s someone I always thought was a real sharp hockey person. He’s a damn good NHL coach, too, as can be attested by the fact he’s won a Stanley Cup in Carolina, took Philadelphia to an overtime game six of the Stanley Cup Final, got the not-ready-for-primetime New York Islanders into the playoffs a couple times and has made the Nashville Predators into a top team in his first season with them. He also won the Stanley Cup.
As a matter of fact, when I interviewed for the Boston Bruins’ general manager job, Laviolette would have been my first choice as head coach if I had ultimately gotten the position. Then and now, I had that much respect for his ability to get the most of his players.
Somewhere along the way, though, I think Lavy started to get wound a little too tight and started to believe his own press clippings a little too much, because he takes himself far too seriously. Nowadays — and this strictly an outside observation –he seems to have lost any semblance of an ability to be anything but a control freak at all times and in all details.
The other night, when Nashville played Chicago, Laviolette blew a gasket behind the bench when he saw — or thought he saw — referee Kevin Pollack wink at someone on the Chicago bench after Laviolette was hollering at him about a call.
Now, back when I was officiating, I used to wink during stoppages of play all the time. I did it to lighten the mood and tension. Sometimes it was even a form of communication back-and-forth, such as Pat Burns winking at me when hollering because his words were actually directed at his players and not at the officials. I winked at Pat Quinn and Terry Crisp and cracked both of them up to de-escalate a tense moment. I used to acknowledge kids in the stands by winking at them. I used to wink at women in the stands, too.
Sometimes, the simple wink was a way of taking the starch out of someone — as in “wow, can you believe THAT guy?” — and even the players on that side would have to stifle a grin. Let’s face it, hockey is all about friction and tension, and we can make ourselves look and sound pretty ridiculous out there at times. I’ve been guilty of it myself many times when riled up. For all the players I said I would cure their diving by skating over face on the ice, it was certainly not something I would actually do.
The mistake Kevin made here was being nice enough to actually engage Peter in conversation about whether he did or did not wink. Had it been me, I’d have said, “Yup, I winked and so what? Now go coach this game.”
Before the start of the next period, I very well may have winked at Nashville captain Shea Weber and said what a joy Laviolette must have been during intermission.
Lighten up, Lavy. People in the game respect you as a coach. It’s when you act like a humorless, egotistical tyrant who is paranoid that people are mocking you that you reflect poorly on yourself. You were lucky that Pollock showed restraint and didn’t run you for essentially questioning his integrity and impartiality. That one thing that no official considers a laughing matter.
************ 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.