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Next week will mark three years since the passing of Bill Dineen, a prolific figure as a coach, scout and former NHL player. As both a human being and as someone who dealt with "Foxy" on the officiating side of the referee-coach relationship -- which is often fraught with tension -- I can tell you that I respected Bill immensely. As a dad, I can also say that I have nothing but admiration and respect for the classy and kind-hearted people that all of his hockey-playing sons turned out to be apart from being intense competitors they were on the ice.
It's been said of Bill Dineen that, after a loss, his players to a man would feel awful because they had collectively let "Foxy" down. That's rather unusual. Normally, players sit around the locker room or bar room -- win or lose -- and gripe about their coach for sins both real and imagined. That's true even on winning teams to some extent but it's a little more muted until the wins stop coming.
The best coach and teacher I ever met was my own father, Bill Stewart. My dad taught and coached in a way that was both extremely demanding but also respectful and humane. He cared not one single bit about someone's ethnic or religious background, socioeconomic status or anything other than their desire to learn. As a high school teacher and coach, he treated everyone's kids like they were his own. Later in life, I came to appreciate and admire the things he did on behalf of students and their families.
The same thing goes for the professional levels. As an NHL coach, my grandfather, Bill Stewart Sr. treated every member of his Stanley Cup winning Chicago Black Hawks team with respect yet with every player knowing who was in charge. For example, while Conn Smythe believed that defenseman Alex Levinsky was a detriment to the Maple Leafs -- not because of his abilities on the ice, but reputedly for the primary reason being that Levinsky was Jewish -- the player later found a home and a regular starting job on Chicago because he could help the team and had a good work ethic.
As both a player and referee, I experienced great coaching, average coaching, awful coaching and everything in between. Each and every coach I ever had was a role model in some way. I learned how to be, and how NOT to be.
I've been thinking a lot in recent days about Foxy and my dad and my grandfather in light of the news about Bill Peters and allegations that are coming to light about other coaches. When the since-confirmed news came out publicly about Peters physically abusing players when he was coach of the Carolina Hurricanes and about him making needless racially-tinged barbs to one of his players (Akim Aliu) when coaching him at the AHL-level, I couldn't help but think about the contrast between that and the coaches and mentors who had shaped my life and hockey career in positive ways.
A coach can -- and must -- be demanding of his players but it needn't -- and mustn't -- equate to abusiveness. That isn't coaching. It's bullying. We need more Bill Stewarts and Bill Dineens in the coaching realm and not more Bill Peters and Bill LaForges; more Bob Johnsons and not more Bob Knights.
Coaches and teachers affect their charges in ways that go far beyond wins and losses in the short term. They can influence and alter careers and lives in ways that last long beyond the time the direct relationship ends. It can be humane, inspirational, and even beautiful. Or it can be ugly, counter-productive in the long-term or even destructive.
Additionally, professionalism isn't a one-way street. Just because you wear a suit on game nights rather than a uniform and have decision-making authority on lineups and strategy doesn't make you automatically a "pro". It's about how you comport yourself and the example you set. Think about it.
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.