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Epitome of class: Hockey world honours the passing of longtime NHL ref Dave Newell of Copper Cliff

Former NHL referee came of age in the 1970s, when bench-clearing brawls were the norm

The hockey world is mourning the passing of Dave Newell, 73, a native of Copper Cliff who was a former NHL referee who worked three Stanley Cup finals in his career.

Newell, who passed away Sunday, worked in the NHL for 23 years, from 1967-1990, in the era when games included just one referee (there are now two for each game.) He worked the NHL finals in 1981, 1984 and 1987.

"In addition to being among the elite in his profession, Dave's commitment to all aspects of officiating could be found in the fact that he served as president of the NHL Officials' Association for nine years," NHL senior executive vice-president of hockey operations Colin Campbell said in a statement. "Following his retirement, as an NHL officiating coach, Dave worked tirelessly for 15 years to mentor and develop young officials.

"A consummate professional who epitomized class, Dave's calm demeanour on the ice earned him the respect of players and coaches. We extend our deepest sympathies to his family and many friends."

“We are deeply saddened to learn of the passing today of dear friend and former colleague, NHL referee Dave Newell,” said another former NHL ref, Kerry Fraser, on his Twitter page. “Dave was a courageous, selfless leader as longtime president of the NHLOA. ‘Newts’ stood tall for what was right and fought for the little guy regardless of personal cost.”

Newell's officiating career began in 1960, when he attended an NHL officials training camp when he was just 15 years old. After being scouted by the Toronto Maple Leafs, he told (then in 2006 that his skating wasn't good enough to make it as a player.

“The very next day, my father had me out refereeing,” Newell told in 2006. “I was working three games a day, six days a week. It was, by far, the best move I ever made. I have been with the league 38 years, including 23 years on the ice. The last 15 years, I have been coaching NHL and AHL referees.”

He made it to the NHL by age 21 and came of age as a ref in the 1970s, a time when hockey had a reputation as violent and the Philadelphia Flyers were winning Stanley Cups “through intimidation,” Newell said.

“I probably refereed more games of the Philadelphia Flyers than any other official, and trust me, it was no easy task,” he said. “When Philly played, and it didn't matter who they played, it wasn't a question of if the benches were going to empty for a brawl, it was when and how often.  

“When teams would go into Philadelphia, there would be three to four scratches in the other team's line up, so the running joke was they had the Philly flu.”

Newell was inducted into the Sudbury Sports Hall of Fame in 2006, something he said meant the world to him.

"It's a dream come true," Newell said at the time. "No one will ever know how long I've thought about being inducted. It got to the point where I thought it just wouldn't happen for me. When I got the call, I was overwhelmed.

“It's the highest honour I've ever been given. It's also the most important thing to happen to me. It means a lot to be honoured by your own community."

An obituary and funeral information for Newell is not yet available.


Darren MacDonald

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