By Chris Jurewicz
He wasn’t a saint and is the first to admit it.
“I’ve been compared to a Brad Marchand or Andrew Shaw, those type of players, so I mixed it up,” says Tyson Stewart in describing himself as a hockey player. “When I played, I was feisty. I definitely wasn’t always the nicest to the referees.”
Given that, it’s interesting where Stewart’s hockey path has taken him. He was a fast, skilled, energetic hockey player in the Central Canada Hockey League who helped the Carleton Place Canadians to back-to-back appearances in the championship game at Canada’s National Junior A Championship 2014 and 2015, and did all of that while playing on the edge.
“Every day that he was at the rink on the ice, every game he played, he always played right on the edge and sometimes over the edge, which made him very difficult to play against for other teams,” says Jason Clarke, Stewart’s former coach with the Canadians. “I don’t think there’s any other person I’ve ever met who hates losing more than I do. He’s just a really, really competitive guy and that’s what makes him tick as a person.”
That competitiveness, that willingness to be the best, has helped drive Stewart to the world of high-end officiating. The Almonte, Ont., native has risen the referee ranks quickly from his early days wearing the stripes as a 15-year-old managing U9 and U11 games. After taking a few years off to play junior hockey, Stewart returned to officiating around the age of 21 and was calling U15 and U17 AA and AAA games and soon started getting Junior A and Junior B assignments. In 2019, he joined the officiating ranks in the Ontario Hockey League and American Hockey League.
And these days, he’s one of 14 referees directing traffic during the 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship.
“That was pretty surreal. I remember getting the first call and they just asked if I would even be interested [in officiating at the World Juniors],” says Stewart. “I was taken aback. I have been watching the World Juniors since I was six years old. Every Boxing Day is World Juniors day and I remember watching with my friends and family.
“I always wanted to play for Team Canada and definitely I wasn’t good enough to get there, but getting there as a referee is the next best thing. Being on the ice, it’s been an amazing experience so far.”
Stewart’s first assignment during this year’s U20 showcase was the Germany-Finland game on Christmas Day. He then called the Canada-Slovakia match-up on Dec. 27 and found himself on the ice with another Carleton Place alumnus in goaltender Devon Levi.
Stewart believes his playing background helps him as a referee. He says he’s always been a strong skater, an attribute needed as a ref, but it goes beyond physical fitness and on-ice ability. Having played high-level hockey – and having done so with grit and energy and being a very involved player – has given Stewart a perspective that not all officials have.
“Having the player mind set, you can’t exactly tell what they’re thinking, but I like to think I can sometimes,” says Stewart. “Just sort of being able to work with a player who played like me that played on the edge, being able to say to them, ‘I know what you’re thinking’, guys will react to that, guys will work with you. That’s how I’ve had some success.”
Stewart’s objective is to officiate at the highest level he can. Like many, he would love to referee in the NHL but also mentions the IIHF World Championship and Olympic Games as goals of his.
He’s just going to enjoy the ride and see how far this one takes him.
“Right now, I’m having the most fun that I’ve ever had with hockey. I’m having more fun right now, refereeing in the AHL, refereeing in the OHL, at the World Juniors, than I ever did playing. And I had a lot of fun playing,” he says. “I got to go to [national championships] and everything. It doesn’t always work out as a player, but being on the ice as a ref is the next best thing. I’ve heard coaches say coaching is next best, but it’s not. Refereeing is the best. You’re still on the ice, you still have to be an athlete, you’re still part of the game. You’re right there.
“I think you should play as long as you can, I think you shouldn’t give it up. Play as long as you can, [and] once you’re done playing or once it’s there, I would highly suggest refereeing.”