Lose some, get some back. It's been the story of my life.
In a blog I wrote in October on delay of game rules, I talked about an AHL game in Halifax where I had a go-round with Bruce Boudreau and Larry Kish about my refusal to call a delay of game penalty. My supervisor, the late Lou Maschio, was also in the building that night.
Something else happened in that same game. Something more fortuitous.
Before the game, Lou and I pooled a few bucks together to buy some tickets for the arena's 50/50 raffle. Linesemen Charlie Banfield and Al Stone declined to participate. My officiating teammates and I took to the ice for the game.
Later in the evening, during a stoppage in play, the public address announcer called out the winning ticket number as I went about my business. Suddenly, I was summoned over to the scorer's table to take a phone call. It was Lou.
"Stewy! We won! We won!" he shouted.
"Huh?" I asked, glancing up to the pressbox, where Lou was leaning forward so far he was almost in danger of tumbling out.
"We won the 50/50!"
After the game, Lou and I went out to the best restaurant in town. We celebrated our good fortune with some giant lobsters, and a bottle of their best wine. Our cheapskate linemen were not invited.
That was the first time I won the 50/50 at an arena during my officiating career but, as the luck of the Irish would have it, it wasn't the last. Later in the AHL, I won $1,000 in Glens Falls during an Adirondack Red Wings game. In the NHL, I won $2,000 in Winnipeg in a 50/50 with half of the proceeds going to support local youth hockey. Finally, I won $2,000 in Phoenix.
There are fun stories behind all of those winning raffle tickets. In every case, the winnings were spent boosting the local economy and gone by the next day.
In Glens Falls, Red Wings coach Bill Dineen good-naturedly feigned anger that I was leaving the building with one grand in my pocket and a beautiful woman (my girlfriend at the time) on my arm. In Winnipeg, a young kid came up to me and shyly asked if I wanted to put in $5 for the 50/50 to benefit local hockey. The two linesmen, a video goal judge and I each kicked in for tickets. Our share of the winnings came to $500 apiece and we each kept $400 and put back $100 apiece as donations to the hockey program.
My favorite story of them all, though, is the one in Phoenix.
A little background is in order first. Over the course of my officiating career, I ran afoul of my bosses for a variety of reasons. Among the sillier reasons that I caught flak: my late father's briefcase, a roller bag, cowboy boots, a tuxedo, a quote, parking in New Haven, and a "bet" for charity.
One night, I refereed an Islanders-Sabres game on Long Island. During the course of the game, there was a play around the net where tough Sabres forward Brad May scored a would-be goal. I did not think the puck went over the line and waved it off. This game happened shortly after the introduction of video review of goals.
I skated over to the Sabres bench to explain my ruling. Now, over the years, I had gotten to know and be friendly with Sabres trainer Jim "Pizza" Pizzutelli -- who was a former Army medic in Vietnam -- and equipment manager Robert "Rip" Simonick. I also liked May a lot both as a player and a person. We are still friends to this day.
The guys got on my case, wanting to know if I was going to have the play reviewed. I said yes. So they challenged me to make a bet on the outcome of the review.
"You know I can't bet you," I said.
"C'mon, just for fun."
"All right. We'll make it for charity. How about we make it $25 to the winner's charity?"
They agreed. Brad was the head of the local Juvenile Diabetes Foundation; a cause he believes in strongly because of the effects the condition had on his sister.
After video review, I realized I was wrong. May's goal counted.
Rip came around after the game to collect.
"Is Brad going to get paid?" he asked.
"Tell you what," I said. "How about we make it $250 and I will write out a check to the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation in care of Brad May?"
Later, Brad thanked me for the donation. We had a nice little laugh about the "bet" and then went on our separate ways.
A few days later, I got a phone call from Brian Burke, who was working in the NHL league office at the time and was in charge of matters of discipline.
"Paul, I'm sorry to do this," Burke said. "We're going to have to fire you."
"Fire me?" I said. "For what?!"
"For violating League rules. You made a bet on the ice about a play with Brad May of Buffalo. The story got into the newspapers. Gary [Bettman] is very much against any hint of our personnel being involved in gambling," Burke said.
"First of all, Burkie, this wasn't a personal monetary bet. It was just a charitable donation. The check was written out to a charity and not to Brad," I said.
"Paul, I know, but..."
I interrupted, "I'm not finished yet. I used to be a Player Rep and I've been active in the NHL Officials Association, and I know how to fight for my rights. You're a lawyer, right?"
"Well, it seems to me you've got a dilemma here," I said. "It takes two sides to make a bet, right? So let me ask you this: If you fire me, how are you going to explain to the NHLPA that you are coming down on Brad May, too? How's the publicity going to look when the media finds out this is all over a charitable donation and was not a person-to-person bet at all? Oh and if you tell me you're punishing ONLY me, how's it going to look in court if you've fired one person for a rule violation and let the other one slide for the very same thing?"
"OK, enough," said Burke. "I get your point. I will talk with Bettman and get back to you."
A little later the phone rings.
"Paul, we're not firing you," Burke said. "But we have to fine you. Also you will have to meet with league representatives to review our league policies and acknowledge your understanding of them. This can never happen again."
"No problem," I said. "Tell me what charity Gary wants me to make out the check for the fine and let's just move on."
My next assigned game was in Phoenix. Two League representatives -- guys whom I like -- came to my hotel and met with me. We went to the arena together. I listened to the lecture about how the League cannot afford the risk of even the slightest perception of impropriety, especially with its officials. I dutifully said that I understood why my actions could be misconstrued and put the League in a bad light.
When I got to the arena, as is my custom, the first thing I did was went for a cup of coffee. There, I saw the team representative in charge of the 50/50 at the arena.
"Paul, do you and the officials want to go in on the 50/50 tonight?" he said.
"Sure," I said, handing him two one dollar bills. "Hang on one minute, I'll collect from the other guys real fast."
I walked into the Officials Dressing Room. In there were my two linesmen, the two league officials and the security guard.
"I need $2 from each of you," I said.
"What for?" someone asked.
I started to explain, but then thought the better of it. I realized that, in this case, the less I said the better.
"Look, it's for a guy who works for the team. He's collecting, c'mon."
Everyone reached into their wallets and pulled out $2 in cash. I took out another $15 from my own wallet and got our raffle tickets. Before I left, I gave them to the security guy for safe keeping, and told him they were for the 50/50 drawing.
The game ended. As I returned to the dressing room, the security guard was so excited that he bear-hugged me. The guy started hollering, "I can't believe it! I can NOT believe it! We won!"
The shares of the winnings came out to $300 apiece for the six of us who had put in money, after peeling off two one hundred dollar bills as a gift to the doorman.
I returned to the dressing room, and closed the door. Then I shook everyone's hand and tucked their share of the winnings in their hand or shirt pockets.
"What's this for, Paul?" said one of the NHL representatives.
"Don't ask," I said. "Trust me, you do NOT want to know."
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.
Today, Stewart is the chairman of the officiating and league discipline committee for the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) and serves as director of hockey officiating for the ECAC.
The longtime referee heads Officiating by Stewart, a consulting, training and evaluation service for officials. Stewart also maintains a busy schedule as a public speaker, fund raiser and master-of-ceremonies for a host of private, corporate and public events. As a non-hockey venture, he is the owner of Lest We Forget.
Stewart's writings can also be found on HockeyBuzz.com every Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. He is currently working with a co-author in writing an autobiography.
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