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You know the stereotype about goaltenders being oddballs? I’m not going to confirm or deny that one. All that I will say is that I’ve been told a few times over the years that I missed my calling and should have been a goaltender instead of position player and referee.
However, one thing that I did learn over the years was that most of the goaltenders I dealt with as a player and an official were very much creatures of habit and routine.
One of the more, um, interesting goalies I dealt with over the years was longtime Calgary Flames and Detroit Red Wings netminder Mike Vernon. He raised being a grouch to an art form, especially in dealing with officials, as if being pleasant might make him lose his edge.
Every game of his that I worked, he’d tell me to F-off when I spoke to him. It was almost comical. Finally, one night, I caught him in kinda-sorta good mood. He even complimented me on a call at one point and didn’t colorfully tell me to get lost even once.
Finally, there was a stoppage of play in the Calgary end of the ice with six ticks left in the third period and the outcome no longer in doubt in a Flames win.
I couldn’t resist. I skated by his net and said, ” “Hey Mike! Can you believe it? We went the whole game, not one ‘F-off!'”
Vernon grabbed the water bottle, looked around and said, “Not so fast, Stewy. It’s still early yet!”
I had to smile.
With other goalies, I could joke around with them. Garth Snow and I had a running banter about his ridiculously over-sized shoulder pads. I had known Snowy and his family for years.
Every time I saw Snow, I’d zigzag the conversation back to his shoulder pads in a slightly more elaborate and ridiculous way than the last and he would try to zing me with something. A common theme was that his pads weren’t actually pads at all but rather something obtained from the inventory at a lumber yard. His late father, Frank Donald “Don” Snow, had a lumber business.
Another time, I worked a game where Snow’s teammate, Ron Hextall, was in goal. It was the preseason but Hexy was already in midseason form. When he thought my back was turned as play start to swing the other way– this was before we had the two-ref system — he gave a guy a two-hander. I called a slashing penalty.
Ron didn’t deny slashing the guy. Instead, he protested by saying, “C’mon, Stewy! I’ve swatted flies harder than that and haven’t killed them,” Hextall said.
“Well, then, maybe that wasn’t my best call,” I said.
Hextall was satisfied. Later in the game, he rared back with the stick on a guy and felt my eyes on him. Hexy didn’t swing. He gently placed his stick back on the ice and the Whaler player skated peacefully away.
At the next stoppage, I winked at Hextall. He grinned back at me.
************ 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 hockey column every Wednesday for the Huffington Post.