Paul Stewart

Paul Stewart is mostly known as the hard-nosed NHL referee who officiated over 1000 NHL games. But before Stewart began enforcing NHL rules and regulations, he used to break them on a very regular basis.

This Boston native was every bit as tough when he was a player. In his first pro season (1975-76) with the Binghampton Dusters (NAHL) Paul picked up 273 PIMs in only 46 games. In October 1976 he signed as a free agent with the Edmonton Oilers in the WHA, but he only played two games for Edmonton and spend most of the 1976-77 season playing for Binghampton where he collected 232 Pim's in 60 games.

Paul got his first real taste of WHA action when he was signed as a free agent by the Cincinnati Stingers (who also later signed a 17 year old Mark Messier) in December 1977. Cincinnati's coach Jacques Demers had a tough guy on his team named Willie Trognitz who had been banned from the IHL for life after he had tried to remove the head of Archie Henderson. Demers and the Stingers gambled that "Wild Willie's" reputation after that incident would be enough to keep the opposition out of the corners,well it wasn't and Trognitz was released and in came the 23-year old Paul Stewart.

Paul was an instant hit with the Cincinnati crowd and media. He would talk to anyone, anytime. Paul was quotable, patient and colorful. He knew the importance of publicity and admitted that he would do anything to help his club fill the seats. Paul racked up 241 PIMs in only 40 games for Cincinnati during the 1977-78 season. He could play both as a left wing and as a defenseman and although he wasn't a big scorer his presence was felt all the time.

Paul played with the Stingers in the WHA sporadically for the next two years, alternating his playing time between Cincinnati and Binghampton Dusters / Philadelphia Firebirds (AHL). At one time he almost ended up playing for the Minnesota North Stars in the NHL. He actually signed a contract with Minnesota but ripped it up before sending it back to the North Stars management. Paul simply got second thoughts and didn't want to leave Cincinnati because they gave him his first real shot among the "big boys". Paul concluded that "you've gotta dance with the one who brung you" - typically Paul Stewart.

On June 9,1979 Paul was claimed by the Quebec Nordiques in the WHA dispersal draft. He made his NHL debut on November 20,1979 against his hometown team, the Boston Bruins. And what a splashy debut it was! Paul didn't waste any time and fought Terry O'Reilly, Stan Jonathan and Al Secord in that game picking up 29 Pim's in his first ever NHL game. The guys that he fought were no slouches. Paul's NHL career was brief though and he only appeared in 21 games, scoring two goals and having 74 Pim's.

He played in the AHL and then briefly in the ACHL before hanging up his skates as a player in 1983. He didn't leave the NHL scene for long though and returned as an official in 1987. He was an instant hit among the players and gained league wide respect for his hard-nosed attitude the same way as in his playing days. Tough but fair.

Paul's perspective on life took a drastic change when he in January 1998 saw a program on TV that had a segment on colon cancer. He recognized some of the symptoms given in the program and decided to arrange an appointment with his doctor. It was revealed that he had stage III colon cancer, one step away from the worst on the scale. Paul had a three hour operation and in typical Paul Stewart manner refused to be transported to his room in a wheelchair despite having tubes in his nose, genitals and arms. He walked instead. He eventually had a couple of complications and had to be operated again. Luckily Paul survived his battle with death and got back to officiating in the NHL again at the start of the 1998-99 season to the delight of all the players who gave him a warm welcome.

Paul was a fighter as a player and as a fighter as a referee and as a person.


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