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Way back in the day, when a common NHL All-Star Game format pitted the defending Stanley Cup champions against an assembly of the top players from the other five teams in the NHL, there was a lot of pride at stake.

In those early years, regardless of the specific format, there was checking involved, defensive strategy and there was even once a full-blown fight (Gordie Howe vs.

Gus Mortson). Actually, Mr. Hockey only knew one way to play — all out — and had 25 penalty minutes in his 23 All-Star games. Along with his fight, he had some elbowing and roughing minors mixed in there along with “gentler” restraining fouls to prevent opposing scoring chances.

Of course, the NHL (WHA, AHL, IHL, etc) All-Star Game hasn’t been about actual competition in the last 45 years or so, with the exceptions of the 1979 and 1987 events that pitted NHL All-Stars against the top Soviet Union players. Otherwise, it has been all about putting on a show.

During my playing days, let’s just say that I wasn’t too concerned about travel plans for the All-Star Game. However, I did get to referee the 1998 NHL All-Star Game in Vancouver.

I was picked to ref that game after being a standby ref for the 1996 NHL All-Star Game in my hometown, Boston. Mark Faucette, a Springfield, Mass. native, was assigned to ref the 1996 game in Boston. He had moved from Springfield to Tampa and the All-Star Game had been scheduled for Tampa in 1999.

The 1998 All-Star Game in Vancouver happened when my wife, Lori, was eight months pregnant with our first son, McCauley. My boss, Bryan Lewis, told me two weeks before, “If you don’t want to go, I’ll give it to somebody else.”

I went to Vancouver. It was an eventful weekend. In a blog last year, I told the story about how, on Skills Competition night, I claimed my very own glowing Fox Trax puck only to be given away by my glowing back pants pocket on the jumbotron screen.

Looking back now, it’s nice to be able to have officiated an NHL All-Star Game during my career. It may not have been the equivalent of officiating a pair of Canada Cup tourneys, the final game at Boston Garden or my 1,000th game, but I am glad in retrospect to have been on the ice with linesmen Mike Cvik and Shane Heyer as well as the many, many great players — including many Hall of Famers — who participated.

Speaking of trips down All-Star memory lane, I recently discovered a YouTube video that took me all the way back to my WHA playing days. It’s hard to believe but 1977 WHA All-Star Game participants Richie Leduc, Ron Plumb, Robbie Ftorek, Hugh Harris, Marc Tardif, Real Cloutier, Pat “Whitey” Stapelton and several other guys were my teammates in the WHA and/or the NHL. It made me proud to see it up on the web.

The best news I’ve heard of late is that Gordie is back on his feet and doing so much better in a nearly miraculous recovery. That guy is a real treat to be around.

As I said, I was far from an All Star player but being on the same ice with these guys at one point or another. If I can do it, I know two kids who live near me that can do it, too, if they so desire.

Have a good weekend everyone, and enjoy the NHL All-Star weekend festivities. Be back on Monday.

************ 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.