Hawerchuk Was a Gentleman as Well as a Superstar
I was saddened last week to learn of the passing of Hockey Hall of Fame center/winger Dale Hawerchuk at the age of 57. Back in April, we all rejoiced when we heard the news that "Ducky" was in remission from stomach cancer, and rang the bell before leaving the hospital in which he underwent chemotherapy treatments. Unfortunately, the good news was short-lived, and the cancer soon returned with a vengeance.
I did not know Dale well off the ice, but whenever I encountered him -- several times at the mall in Winnipeg, as there wasn't much else to do -- he was very friendly, and genuine. On the ice, we shared one of most memorable moments of our respective careers.
I was the referee at the 1987 Canada Cup finals game 2 in which Hawerchuk won the faceoff that led up to Mario Lemieux's series-winning goal against the Soviet Union. Dale never won a Stanley Cup and I was never given the opportunity to referee a Stanley Cup Final, so the Canada Cup was extra special to both of us in that regard.
We also shared some laughs. 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.
Dale had his say, too.
"Wow, Stewy. That was tasty, from coast to coast," he said with a grin.
All I could do was laugh at my own expense.
Another night in Winnipeg, a fan reached over the glass and punched me as I jumped up on the boards to avoid getting caught up in the play. One of the Jets, possibly Hawerchuk, quipped, "Someone needs to buy that guy, dinner!" Even if Dale didn't say it, he got a big laugh from it, as did I.
The things about Dale Hawerchuk that stood out to me, above all else, were the warmth of his smile and his unassuming, regular guy nature. There was no ego or "I'm a star" complex about him; you'd never know he was a future Hall of Famer who had six seasons with 100 or more points. We had the usual referee-player disagreements over calls but it was never, ever ugly or personal. There was never any carryover from him.
Another Hawerchuk story; this one post-career. An acquaintance of mine knew Dale and asked him to a appear at a summertime kids hockey camp he and his business partner were running. Hawerchuk said yes. Months later, he had another commitment arise, nowhere nearby. Rather than begging off, he took a four-hour flight to make good on his promise.
Dale was a good guy and a great hockey player. He will be greatly missed.
Thoughts on Milbury Controversy
I am not Mike Milbury's biggest fan
. I suspect the feeling is mutual. We've know each other for many, many years and had our ups and downs with one another.
Right now, I'm not going to kick Mike while he's down. I cannot put words in his mouth. However, I think I understand what he was trying to get at -- and badly failed to express -- when he said that one of the good things about the current "Bubble" environment is that there weren't women around to distract the players.
I THINK Milbury was getting at the idea that none of the push-pull obligations that compete daily between home life and hockey life -- relationships, children, bills, errands, etc. -- were present in the Bubble. It has not been uncommon over the years for teams to stay at a hotel while at HOME during a playoff series, so the only focus is on hockey.
Unfortunately, Milbury didn't say that. He singled out "women" as THE distraction, and that's not going to fly. Especially with women finally starting to make gains as players, officials, broadcasters, beat writers, etc., it was a very ill-considered remark by "Mad Mike."
Thing is: There's a "say what you mean and mean what you say" sort of teaching moment here. If you have to rely on others to fill in the blanks and interpret what you were "trying to say" -- or to make a judgement simply at the face value of your exact words -- then you open the door to being called sexist at worst, out-of-touch at best.
Do I think Milbury needed to clarify himself? Yes. Did he deserve to lose his job specifically for that ill-considered remark about the Bubble? Not in my opinion. I don't have to like him as a coach, a GM, or a broadcaster. I'm not going to argue the quality control of his analysis work. He's not a dumb guy but he has a tendency to be stubborn and lock onto things rather than reflecting on them.
In this case, I don't think any harm was meant. And I don't think, strictly at its face value, it should be a career-ender. It's better used as a dialogue-builder. Specific to hockey, I think the growth of women's involvement has been one of the most exciting developments with tremendous potential to further expand in the future. My own involvement has primarily been in advocating for the best women's officials to have doors opened to work their way all the way up to the NHL.
Unfortunately, there are still barriers that need to be broken down. From a hockey family perspective, spouses make sacrifices that are often even bigger than players, so that they can pursue their dreams. Those sacrifices should always be respected. As for women within the game itself, it should be their ability and their work ethic, not a second X chromosome that defines how far they can rise within our sport.
Positioning Sells Calls
You have heard me say this dozens of times in the seven years that I have been doing this blog: Proper positioning is the biggest key to making (and justifying) calls on the ice. I have seen multiple cases in the NHL playoffs this month where officials' positioning left a lot to be desired, and the outcomes of calls/non-calls suffered as a result.
In Game 2 of the current Dallas vs. Colorado series, the Esa Lindell goal that put the Stars ahead, 4-2, is a case in point. There was zero chance that referee Dan O'Rourke, from where he was positioned, could tell if the puck completely crossed the goal line. Replays were inconclusive, so the good-goal ruling on the ice was upheld.
Colorado forward Gabriel Landeskog called the ruling into question, precisely because O'Rourke wasn't directly behind the net where he could get the best possible view of the play,
"I mean, Dan is behind the net on the other side. I don't know how he sees that the puck is across the line. I don't know how he points at the net. I think he realized pretty quickly that he messes up. Once he starts watching the video replay, I think he realizes that he went off of Esa Lindell's reaction and pointed to the net. You can't overturn it if there's no evidence," Landeskog said.
Landeskog isn't wrong here, nor was Colorado coach Jared Bednar. I agree with them, it's all about positioning selling calls. The games maybe won or lost in the corners according to Conn Smythe BUT the money for players and referees is at the net. Trust yourself. You shouldn't rely on replay.
A 2018 inductee into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame, 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.
Visit Paul's official websites, YaWannaGo.com and Officiating by Stewart.