U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame Welcomes Three New Inductees
Earlier this week, USA Hockey announced that there will be three new inductees to the United States Hockey Hall of Fame: Paul Holmgren, Peter McNab, and Stan Fischler. My heartfelt congratulations go out to all three of these outstanding gentlemen. All are richly deserving. I hope that their induction night in December becomes as joyous of a memory for them as my induction night in Nashville in 2018 is to me.
Every hockey enforcer, if he had his druthers, would have loved to be a high-end "skills player" like Peter McNab. I grew up idolizing Jean Beliveau as well as Gordie Howe; in my fantasies, I'd have been a combination of the two on the ice. When I made my NHL debut for the Quebec Nordiques at Boston Garden on Thanksgiving 1979 -- the game in which I got the "Dorchester Hat Trick" of three fighting majors and an automatic game misconduct -- Peter was on the Bruins.
I never considered part of my description to be harassing (and especially not trying to beat up or injure) another team's skill players. I was there to protect our own skill guys if they got targeted and to do battle with other teams' tough guys as a means of making my own team feel a little more psyched up and find a little more operating room on the ice. I had a pregame battle with Wayne Cashman and dropped the gloves in-game with Terry O'Reilly, Al Secord and Stan Jonathan -- and to this day consider it an honor that they obliged me -- but I'd have never laid a hand on someone like Peter NcNab.
Peter, who was born in British Columbia but is an American citizen and represented Team USA internationally, was a 40-goal scoring Lady Byng Trophy candidate. He's also a great guy off the ice and an absolute legend in Colorado as a University of Denver alum and a longtime Avalanche broadcaster.
With Paul Holmgren, or "Homer" as most of us call him, I always felt a sort of unspoken kinship. The Minnesota native, like myself, was one of the few American-born and American-trained players in the NHL in the pre-Miracle on Ice era. He was a player in the same sort of mold that I was, except that he was bigger, stronger and a much better goal scorer. He started out as an enforcer (actually, he took a starting lineup job on the Flyers away from my old friend Dave "the Hammer" Schultz, which is a testament to just how tough Paul is). Then he slowly made himself into a 30-goal scorer in the NHL and a guy who played in the NHL All-Star Game.
People scoff sometimes when I say that American players (and officials for that matter) for many years got somewhat similar "minority group" treatment from some of our Canadian counterparts to what First Nation or black players received. I am not referring to off-ice life but we were considered a novelty. On the ice, we got challenged all the time and had to literally fight for respect. Well, Homer earned that respect very quickly.
I never had occasion to drop the gloves with Paul. As with Clark Gillies, Homer's one of the few guys I really would not have relished having to fight. Homer was just so damn big and strong and his punches packed an especially heavy wallop. As placid and soft-spoken as Paul has always been off the ice, he was one mean and double-tough dude on the ice. I had nothing but immense respect for the player he was. I'd have loved to have a pro playing career that rivaled his, but my true calling ended up being in a striped jersey.
When Paul was briefly in the NAHL with Johnstown, I was with Binghamton but we didn't cross paths on the ice. I certainly heard about him, though. His brief time in the WHA with the Minnesota Fighting Saints also did not coincide with my eventual time in that league. He was in the NHL with the Flyers by the time I had a tryout contract with the Edmonton Oilers and later earned a spot on Cincinnati. I did play an NHL game for Quebec in Philly against Homer but I fought Jack McIlhargey in that game.
Over the years, through my officiating career of working games that Paul coached and then seeing him around the arena or NHL events when he moved to the executive side, I built a bit of a friendship with Homer. He's a man of tremendous integrity, character, integrity, self-reflection and inner wisdom as well as being one of most astute hockey guys I've met. You can take him at his word.
Paul is someone who messed up in his off-ice life and not only made the most personally of a second chance but has spent decades paying it forward to other people. He's an extremely kind and generous person in that regard.
In a previous blog, I discussed why I think Stan Fischler belongs in the "big" Hockey Hall of Fame
in Toronto. I don't know if or when that issue will get rectified but I am thrilled that the United States Hockey Hall of Fame has recognized "the Maven". Mave is a good friend and someone who has the courage of his convictions, whether you agree with his stances or not.
Stan lives in Israel nowadays, which is something I know he always wanted to do after stepping away from writing and TV. But we stay in touch and I am proud to count him among my friends. I only wish his late wife and frequent writing partner, Shirley, lived to savor the moment of learning of Stan's selection to the USHHOF.
Once again, my congratulations go out to Peter, Paul and Stanley; my favorite folk singing group. Just kidding. Way to go Pete, Homer and Mave.
9/11: A 20-Year Lookback
On September 11, 2001, I was at the NHL Officiating training camp in Fort Erie, Ontario. Nursing a bad back with two ruptured discs, I was in physical agony so severe that skating was out of the question. Mentally, I felt even worse. I was contemplating the thought that my NHL career may be over at age 48; ultimately I was able to work through the 2002-03 season.
That day, I had actually been booked to fly to New York City from Buffalo to receive the Crohn's Colitis Foundation Award for the work I had done for that cause; the condition can be a major factor developing colon cancer. The New Jersey Chapter was headed by some very dear people who are also my friends, the Sherman family. Suzanne actually works for the NHL in New York.
At the same time, my wife was at our home in Massachusetts. A United Airlines flight attendant by occupation at the time, she was experiencing very severe morning sickness while pregnant with our second son, Maxwell. Lori had been booked off working a flight on a Boeing 767-223ER aircraft. The route from Boston to LA was a regular flight she made with her flight attendant friends in a system they called "buddy bidding."
Back in my hotel room in Fort Erie, I took a shower and started to pack my bags. I flipped on the Today Show on NBC just in time to see the smoking tower from the World Trade Center. I was dumbfounded and about to be further shocked and heartbroken by all of the days happenings.
I got in the car and drove over the Peace Bridge very shortly before they closed the border. National Hockey League VP Claude Loiselle, who was making his way to NYC, dropped me off at the airport. With all flights canceled across the country, I was able to rent a car. I headed east toward Boston and home. As I drove near Albany, I saw a convoy of fire engines and ambulances headed south on the thruway. No doubt, they were headed toward New York City. There was also a massive presence of State Troopers on the roads, stationed at bridges and other important points along the way.
Finally, I got home. Lori was inconsolable and in a state of shock. She had lost her friends on that flight. Just a few hours earlier, I was worried about whether I could continue my NHL officiating career. Now that seemed trivial compared to what my wife -- and my country -- were going through.
The bad news continued, both on the national front and from a personal standpoint. Among the people lost on United Airlines Flight 175 were Los Angeles Kings scouts Garnet "Ace" Bailey (age 53) and Mark Bavis (age 31). The hockey world is a small one. I knew both men to varying degrees.
Bavis, a native of Rolisdale, Mass. who was living at the time in West Newton, went to high school with my nephew, Scott McDonald. The former Boston University and Providence Bruins left winger struck me as a fine young man and an ambitious go-getter who had a bright future ahead of him on the scouting and player personnel side of the game after his playing days.
I knew Ace very well. We went way back with each other. Ace was one of our game's true characters; an outgoing and fun-loving guy. As with myself, no one would ever have described Garnet Bailey as the meek and introverted type. I also knew his wife and son. I went to the memorial service.
I played against Ace in Edmonton. He always wore a turtleneck under his team sweater (I did, too, when I reffed). Later on, I used to see him scouting at AHL, Prep School and college games around New England.
Another night, I saw him in Houston, standing at the bench during warmups. He was there scouting. Well, actually he wasn't scouting at the moment. He was eating a double-sized slice of pepperoni pizza. We nodded a greeting to each other.
The next night, Ace was there again. Only now, he was the team's interim coach. The club had fired their coach -- sorry, I forget his name but I played with him, too, during my WHA playing days -- and asked Bailey to step in temporarily.
Ace laughed when he saw me again.
"Stewy, let's be nice tonight and try to get this done, eh," he said.
My reply was a wisecrack.
"No pizza tonight, Ace?"
"Nah," he said.
"Well, then maybe coaching will be good for the waistline," I smirked.
He chuckled. That was Ace's sense of humor; he could take a barb as well as dish one out.
There's another famous story about Ace that truly nails his personality to a tee: In May of 1972, about a week after the Bruins won the Stanley Cup, Bruins forward Bailey and group of other players and their friends went out to continue their celebration. Among other stops, they hung out at a lounge owned by Bruins goalie Eddie Johnston.
The party went late into the night. Some time in the wee hours, a minor scuffle ensued inside Johston's bar and picked up again outside. The police were called and Bailey and the others got arrested for disorderly conduct and public drunknessness; charges were later dropped.
At any rate, after being informed of their Miranda rights and taken to the police station, Bailey and the others were told they could make their phone call. Another Bruins player on the scene promptly phoned his attorney. Two of their arrested friends called spouses or siblings to come post bond for them.
Ace Bailey called an all-night pizza place and ordered in delivery for the cops and his buddies. Ace loved his pizza, all right, but above all he loved a good laugh.
When 9-11 unfolded, all of us in the hockey world were struck deeply. Not only had we lost brethren in the terrorist attacks but, as people in an industry where travel is a constant way of life, the nature of the attacks were unsettling. We went through the same anguish again -- the context was different but the feeling was the same -- when the Lokomotiv plane tragedy in Yarolslavl happened in September 2011.
Franklin Roosevelt called December 7, 1941 a "date which will live in infamy." It certainly was. September 11th is also at that point of significance and impact on our generation and, sadly, something that we have not heard the last of in our time.
Lastly, I would be remiss if I did no mark the anniversary of that dark day -- which simultaneously revealed humanity at its best as well as its barbaric and evil worst -- by saying rest in Peace to all my friends from NYPD and NYFD who were among the brave who went to do their jobs.
After games, I used to hoist a few at McHale's up on 8th Ave. with some of those guys. Twenty years later, I will again raise a toast and say a prayer for all who lost their lives on that horrible day.
NHL Officiating Training Camp is Underway
The official start of NHL team training camps is still about 10 to 14 days away but NHL referees and linesmen have reported to their league-run training camp. People have asked me what officials do during training camp. Today's blog is already running long, so I'll just bullet point what goes on.
* Physical conditioning testing. This has gotten more intensive over the years. These guys are in outstanding shape. Let's put it this way: My old friends colleagues, the late Mick McGeough and Don Koharski, might not have not such long careers if the physical requirements back then were the same as they are today. On the flip side, I wish more of today's officials, on the whole, understood the psychology and positioning sides of officiating side in the way my generation of officials were trained.
* Video and rules meetings, including new rules and areas of particular emphasis for the upcoming season. This is the officiating version of systems-related meetings for players.
* There's also the timeless parts of training camp that never change: getting together with your buddies off the ice, griping a bit, and understanding that there's some "off-season rust" to shake off during exhibition assignments to get ready for opening night.
In many way the value of officiating camp is pretty similar to what it's like being a player. Having seen it from both sides, you're glad when it arrives, work your tail off. get sick of being there before the end of it and are really happy when the season begins for real.
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