Back in 1977, I was in the office of Cincinnati Stingers owner Bill DeWitt, getting ready to sign my contract for the World Hockey Association team. I put down the pen for a moment and told Mr. DeWitt a story.
"You know, Gordie Howe got a Red Wings jacket from Jack Adams as his bonus to sign with that club. Milt Schmidt got a train ticket to Boston, a new suit and some spending money to sign. Bobby Orr's parents got their house re-stuccoed as his signing bonus from the Bruins," I said.
He looked at me, expectantly. I wasn't comparing myself to the aforementioned hockey legends but I was getting to a point about a signing bonus can be something modest of personal significance. It doesn't have to be a monetary reward.
I continued, "I notice that the guys on the team all got Stinger rings the other night. You know, when I left UPenn, I never got a ring."
Mr. DeWitt smiled and replied," Paul, those rings were for last year's accomplishments. You weren't on that team."
"I know that," I said. "But 20 years from now, no one else will know how or why I got my Stinger ring. It would make me really feel like a part of your team. Plus, it's a good story for our hockey history together."
Mr. DeWitt sat for a minute. Then he smiled.
"OK, you'll get your ring," he said
A class guy and a man of his word, Bill DeWitt made good on his promise. I got my first ring, and I still have it to this day. It's a size 16. I also have one from my first Stanley Cup playoff series as a referee in 1989 and a diamond one from the NHL in recognition of 15 years of service. I've also been awarded several watches over the years.
Every once in awhile, this thought crosses my mind: Without hockey, I'd have no jewelry.
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.