Russian ref earns his stripes in NHL
Evgeny Romasko became the first Russian-born referee to work an NHL game this week. The league hopes he’s not the last.
Romasko made his NHL officiating debut Monday in Detroit when the Red Wings hosted the Edmonton Oilers and was set to work Tuesday’s game between the Carolina Hurricanes and visiting Columbus Blue Jackets.
The 33-year-old had the skating, presence and hockey sense the league is looking for in its referees, according to director of officiating Stephen Walkom, who observed Romasko at an International Ice Hockey Federation camp last summer.
“I saw Evgeny — “Geno” — work and he stood out from the rest,” Walkom said Tuesday in a phone interview. “There was a lot of good officials there, but he was very noticeable in the group.”
Romasko’s “effortless” skating and command of games impressed Walkom, who tried to get the former KHL referee into the NHL’s camp this fall. When that didn’t happen in time, Romasko went to work 32 games in the American Hockey League before his call-up.
The native of Tver, Russia, told the Red Wings’ website working his first NHL game was the third happiest day of his life, trailing only the two days his children were born. Romasko said he was lucky to earn the opportunity.
Red Wings coach Mike Babcock told reporters at Joe Louis Arena Monday he looked at the officials’ names and wondered if Romasko was Russian. Told that he was, Babcock expressed pride for the sport.
“Obviously, (in) the international game we’ve got lots of great Russian players and it’s great that there’s good refereeing all over the world,” Babcock said in Detroit. “I think when you get a chance to ref in the National Hockey League and then you get to go back to your country and you get to make the referees in your own country better just with your experience, I think it’s a real positive thing for hockey.”
While Dutch-born linesman Jerry Pateman and English-born referee Malcolm Ashford previously worked in the NHL, Sweden’s Marcus Vinnerborg became the first Europeantrained official to make it in 2010. As Romasko follows, the league keeps looking for more talent overseas.
“It’s not that we haven’t been looking,” said Walkom. “Really, there’s no borders when it comes to officiating.”
Walkom hopes those who reach the end of their playing days may turn to officiating like rookie referees Kendrick Nicholson and Garrett Rank. The NHL is trying to recruit those kinds of players through its combine, hoping to get more strong skaters into the profession.
Europe seems like an untapped resource for officials. Romasko may just be the first of many.
“I would hope that he inspires a generation of junior hockey players or guys that play, say, minor pro hockey that when that dream’s over to go back and serve the game in another way,” Walkom said. “Evgeny, if he inspires someone to get to try it and like doing it and they think they can serve the game in that way, whether it be in Europe or North America, I think that’s great.”