Many people have asked me to state my opinion on the officiating in the Stanley Cup playoffs, especially around here in Boston following the Bruins recent East Division series loss to the New York Islanders. It's a yearly rite. Did the salmon not swim upstream around the time the NHL playoffs happen? Do the swallows not return to Capistrano around the time the NHL regular season has just gotten underway?
Same question, different year.
When the salmon start jumping the falls and the bears await with open mouths to snag them before they splash down, I am asked if I think the referees are biased against Team X, which is inevitably the team of the questioner's rooting interest. I always give the same answer: The only team that officials are looking out for is their own: the team in stripes.
Back when I was refereeing, if I made a call that went the Bruins way, radio hosts and fans would say, "He's biased for the Bruins since he's from Boston." Meanwhile, there was the night that Pat Burns accused me of "reverse bias", yelling from the bench, "You screw the Bruins just to prove you're fair."
If you can figure the logic in that one, you are a wiser person than I. I loved Pat, but that episode bothered me because he KNEW that I didn't call anything differently based on the teams on the ice. He said it to fire up his players and the fan base at my expense, because it's a dog-eared page from the ol' "Coaches' Handbook on Reacting to Adversity."
Coaches need to say something when they are pushed into a corner by reporters anxious to fill space in their column or on their TV or radio show. So they beat the same old dead horse: "The refs are out to get us."
Back when I was a player, my coaches did the same thing. Jacques Demers was THE master of it. I'd have skated through a wall for Jacques, but I could always see through that particular strategy of his. As the grandson of Bill Stewart Sr. and the son of Bill Stewart Jr., I knew full well that no credible official cared a whit about which teams were playing.
That's all well and good. The salmon still go upstream, and referees and linesmen still make mistakes even as playoff ticket prices go to $250 for the last row in the attic. The only difference is that mistakes are even more magnified because of folks "Inside the Glass" or when they use the iPads on the bench or go to replay from 23 different angles.
Me, well, I'm thinking of moving to Alaska next spring. I want to actually see those salmon and those bears go at it. Catch my drift?
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.