That's a big reason why the League informed teams Tuesday that its director of officiating, Stephen Walkom, is attending the upcoming NHL officials training camp both as an administrator and as a referee candidate for the 2009-2010 season. A new director of officiating will be announced soon.
Walkom joined the League's administration four years ago after distinguishing himself as one of the game's top referees. His mission: Help Senior Executive Vice President of Hockey Operations Colin Campbell to install changes in the NHL game. The particular officiating challenge was how interference, hooking and holding penalties would be called.
"Stephen has done a terrific job of bringing the officials together after our rules changes," Campbell told NHL.com Tuesday. "He set a standard for officiating and helped the League get the game in a shape that just gave us the best Final ever."
The Stanley Cup playoffs fueled Walkom's desire to get back on the ice. He started working out in anticipation of next month's officials training camp during the early rounds of play last spring. Campbell knew all about it because he promised Walkom that the former ref could return to the ice anytime during his first early years as a NHL administrator. It was how Campbell could lure the then 41-year-old Walkom off the ice after observing the North Bay (Ont.) native's professionalism on a NHL rules committee comprised of three officials, two players, five coaches and five general managers.
"What we lose in a very capable administrator we gain on the ice," Campbell said. "We get a real good official. And not only is Stephen going to gain the respect of players, coaches and general managers, but with all of the other officials he is going to put his words and leadership into action."
"I am excited," Walkom said. "The adrenaline is going. I am coming back to the NHL game that is like the playoffs every night and every game."
Walkom's NHL officiating career started in 1990. He was part of Stanley Cup Final officiating crews in 2002 and 2004, plus the World Cup of Hockey in 2004.
One of Walkom's innovations was to engage the League's officials in playing hockey during their preseason training camp to more deeply appreciate and understand the games they regulate. The other American sports leagues, including the NFL and NBA, are considering similar measures for their officials.
"I envied [the NHL officials] every camp, playing hockey and refereeing and coaching themselves," Walkom told NHL.com. "I always stayed in the mindset of officials and never lost my craving for being on the ice.
"It's been an honor and privilege to serve the game in any capacity. Luckily enough, I had that chance off the ice, and now I'm looking forward to serving back on the ice."