Stephen Walkom calls it game presence, an it factor required for an NHL official, one who works in a composed, assured way skating among players moving at 25-30 miles per hour and pucks blasted up to speeds of 100 MPH. The ideal on-ice official is assured of himself and the way he goes about his business enforcing the rules of a game played at a breakneck pace.
"That's someone that has that great inner confidence," said Walkom, NHL senior vice president and director of officiating. "That's something that he has. He has that presence. I think it has a lot to do with the fact that he's a phenomenal skater as well."
"He" is 33-year-old Evgeny Romasko, who became the first Russian-born referee to work an NHL game Monday when the Edmonton Oilers played the Detroit Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena. Born in Tver, Russia, about 100 miles northeast of Moscow, Romasko worked 295 regular-season and 15 playoff games in the KHL and 32 games in the American Hockey League. He also worked in the 2013 IIHF World Junior Championship and was selected to referee the gold-medal game at the 2013 World Under-18 Championship.
Walkom discovered Romasko at a referee combine in Europe last summer.
"We're looking for someone that has that great hockey sense," Walkom said. "He needs to be a fantastic skater. We want you to work 1,000 games in the NHL, which is pretty much a career, and it'd be great if you naturally had presence in the game.
"[Romasko] is one of those guys that the scouts unanimously said he just has that. And that good skating gives him real good presence in the game. We had our guys watch him quite closely. He had some pro experience so he was lucky he wasn't a guy coming from junior hockey, so our scouts decided let's get him on a minor-league contract so we can watch him a little closer and we can begin the process of him working for us on full-time basis. We got through that and he just had to go out and perform."
Veteran official Paul Devorski worked with Romasko on Monday and is scheduled to skate alongside side him the next two games. The two met when Romasko visited Devorski's hometown outside of Hershey, Pa., in January. After Devorski showed Romasko the area and looked at a few apartments they returned to Devorski's home to watch Super Bowl XLIX.
Even during that social visit, Devorski sensed that Romasko had Walkom's requisite game presence and was built to do the job.
"Just by looking at him he's quite a big man, so right there his presence is going to help him," Devorski said. "He's a big, towering man. His legs are big as tree trunks. I talked to a guy the other day. He worked with another AHL referee and Evgeny pretty much ran the whole game. That was good to hear."
Monday was the start of Romasko's adjustment period to the NHL game and landscape. There have been learning curves and will be more. He's getting used to the travel, to not having a credit card that works in North America, to not having a driver's license or a cell phone. On the ice Romasko will have to gain respect by establishing communication between coaches and players, something that Devorski believes will happen quickly with him coming from the KHL.
"I think once he gets out there and starts doing it, starts working a few NHL games here and there, it will come," Devorski said. "It's just like any rookie guy coming out of the U.S. or Canada. They're all a little green at first but you give him a few games on their own and they start to tread water."