NASHVILLE — Paul Stewart has a very big goal for the next stage of his already lengthy hockey career, and that’s helping women follow in his footsteps by officiating in the NHL.
Stewart, being inducted Wednesday night into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame , said Katie Guay will be working the upcoming Beanpot tournament in Boston after being an official at the 2018 Winter Olympics. Stewart, who refereed 1,010 NHL regular-season games, 49 Stanley Cup playoff games and two NHL All-Star Games, says he had a small part in helping Guay.
"I want to see someone break that glass ceiling," Stewart said. "It doesn’t take an X or Y chromosome to put your arm in the air and call a penalty. It only takes brains and guts. And that’s it. My next goal is to have lots of great women officiating."
Stewart joined David Poile, general manager of the NHL’s Nashville Predators, three-time Olympic medallist and U.S. national team captain Natalie Darwitz, former Michigan coach Red Berenson and the late Leland "Hago" Harrington being inducted. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman also presented the 2018 Lester Patrick Award to the late Jim Johansson.
Darwitz, who currently coaches Division III Hamline in St. Paul, Minnesota, said women being officials in the NHL is possible. She said she couldn’t shoot a puck like a man or skate as fast but believe women could be referees. She mentioned Guay and Kristine Langley, who’s currently a referee for men’s game at the D-III level.
"If you know the game well enough, that’s certainly a huge possibility that could happen in the future," Darwitz said. "And I would love to see that."
Five women took part in the NHL’s officiating combine in Buffalo in August, one more than 2017. Stephen Walkom, the NHL’s director of officiating, told The Associated Press in September that the league is open to anyone testing themselves at the combine and the pool is growing with more women playing hockey.
What the NHL is looking for in officials applies to men and women. Walkom said qualities need include being an exceptional skater to keep up with the pace of play, and Bettman told the AP that being as qualified as other candidates is the key.
"I don’t view any limitations in our ability to continue to attract knowledgeable, smart, hard-working professionals, whether they’re male or female," Bettman said.
Talking about being inducted, Stewart got emotional and teared up. The man who had 288 penalty minutes in 65 games played in the WHA and NHL joked he felt like he’d had an onion in his face all day.
"You’ve seen a side of me not a lot of players ever saw," Stewart said. "I used to make them cry."
The induction ceremony was a sellout event Wednesday night at a hotel a couple blocks from the Predators’ arena thanks to Poile, the man who built Nashville’s NHL franchise from the ground up as an expansion franchise. Poile, already the NHL’s longest-tenured and winningest general manager , currently is in his 37th straight season after spending his first 15 with Washington.
Poile also was general manager of the 2014 U.S. Olympic men’s team and associate general manager for the 2010 team that won silver in Vancouver.
"I’m a lucky guy," Poile said. "I was born into a hockey family, so I have no regrets and I have no complaints."
Being inducted in the same year that the U.S. women won Olympic gold for the first time in 20 years made this even more special for Darwitz. The youngest ever player named to the U.S. women’s national team at 15, she wound up captain of the U.S. women’s national team from 2007-10 and won Olympic silver in 2002 and 2010 and bronze in 2006.
Darwitz, the fifth woman inducted individually into this hall, said people now know more about women’s hockey thanks to increased media attention and social media.
"Hopefully in 10 years or less than that another female’s getting inducted, and they’re like ‘Oh, I know that name,’ and it’s a household name versus a lot of Minnesotans know my name," Darwitz said. "They might not know my name in Nashville or Michigan, but if they follow women’s hockey they certainly know my name. Hopefully that trend continues in women’s hockey."
Johansson was the general manager of the 2018 U.S. Olympic men’s team and assistant executive director of USA Hockey when he died Jan. 21. Bettman said Johansson was universally liked in presenting the Lester Patrick Award to Johansson’s family. Abby Johansson, holding their 3-year-old daughter Ellie, said her late husband would be pleased to receive the award on the same night as his good friend, Poile, was being inducted into the Hall of Fame.
"We miss J.J. dearly, but we know he is with us every day," she said.