Earning Their Stripes

Hall Of Fame Ref Sets His Sights On Helping Women Officials Shatter The Glass Ceiling

As the only American to both play and officiate in the National Hockey League, Paul Stewart knows a thing or two about breaking down barriers.

In his current role as the ECAC Hockey’s director of officiating for both men and women, the Massachusetts native has his sights set on helping shatter the glass ceiling when it comes to women officials working in the NHL.

         “It doesn’t take an X or a Y chromosome to put your arm in the air and call a penalty. It only takes brains and guts,” said Stewart, who officiated more than 1,000 NHL games after his playing career ended.

         “We have one [female official] who is going to work the Beanpot this year, Katie Guay. She worked the Olympics last year. I had a small part in helping her.”

         For all he’s accomplished in the game, Stewart was inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame as part of the Class of 2018 that included long-time NHL general manager David Poile, three-time Olympian Natalie Darwitz, pioneering player Leland “Hago” Harrington and legendary college coach Gordon “Red” Berenson. Also honored was the late USA Hockey assistant executive director Jim Johannson, who received the NHL’s Lester Patrick Award.

         In addition to all he did on the ice, Stewart also became the face of the NHL’s Hockey Fights Cancer when he waged a successful battle against Stage 4 colon cancer, helping raise support for national and local cancer research institutes, children’s hospitals and other charities. Now cancer free, he keeps going strong.

         “My hockey life has been like a large pizza,” he said. “I had a slice from almost every part of the pie, and I’ll tell you what I haven’t even gotten through half of it yet.”

         And the next slice for him includes creating more opportunities for women to wear the stripes at the highest level. Another member of the 2018 Class thinks it’s an achievable goal.

         “You talk about women refereeing and I think that’s something that is possible. I’m all for it,” said Darwitz, who was the youngest woman to earn a spot on a U.S. Women’s National Team as a 15-year old.

         “If you know the game well enough that’s certainly a huge possibility in the future, and I’d love to see that.”

         A current roll call of female officials shows more than 1,500 working in the USA Hockey system, including 133 who are tabbed to officiate at higher levels such as USA Hockey National Championships and Player Development Camps. In addition, there are currently 32 who are licensed to work IIHF events such as Women’s World Championships and Olympic Winter Games.

        Guay recently became the first women official to work a men's beanpot game, the historic Boston-based college hockey tournament.Guay recently became the first women official to work a men's beanpot game, the historic Boston-based college hockey tournament.  “Officiating may not be a full-time job for these women because they have full-time occupations as doctors, lawyers and other careers, they still bring the same level of professionalism as their male counterparts who work in various leagues on a full-time basis,” said Matt Leaf, the director of USA Hockey’s Officiating Education Program.

The general consensus is not if it will happen but when a woman will wear stripes in the NHL. Based on what she’s done so far in the game, the odds-on favorite to blaze that trail is Guay, a former player at Brown University who is currently serving as the USA Hockey Foundation’s director of philanthropy in addition to working men’s and women’s games in the ECAC. She also broke new ground by officiating the recent Beanpot tournament in Boston.

         While she has earned the respect of college players and coaches alike, Guay admits that she likely wouldn’t have been given the chance without Stewart’s support.

         “Timing is everything and I think I just happen to have been in the right place at the right time. A lot of my mentors could have been in my shoes but it wasn’t the right time,” she said. “Paul is the one who made it happen. For him to take a leap and make that happen, everything worked out based on where I was in the women’s game and what he was trying to do.”

         And with female officials already working in the NFL and NBA, Guay says having a woman working in the NHL is another step in the evolution of the game.

         “In 1998 when women’s hockey was in the Olympics for the first time I was just entering high school and that opened my eyes seeing women’s hockey on TV and opened my eyes to so many things,” Guay said. 

         “If there was to be a female official on the ice in the NHL it might open the eyes for many young females out there and give them another dream that they could put on their plate.”

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