In his 51 years involved in various capacities of officiating, Bob Hayden has had two mentors.
One of those mentors — who became a friend — happened to be the late pioneer and USA Hockey national referee-in-chief Chet Stewart.
So, when Hayden was chosen as the 2021 USA Hockey Chet Stewart Award winner, it was dear to his heart.
“I’m probably one of the few people who’ve gotten this award that actually knew Chet up close and personal,” Hayden said. “I thought the world of him and a lot of people did. So, when you win this award, you think of who it’s named after, and I don’t know how I can put that into words. It’s a man I’ve admired throughout my involvement with hockey.”
In a lot of respects, Hayden followed in Stewart’s big footsteps. In the early 1980s, Stewart was the president of the National Ice Hockey Officials Association. At the end of the decade, Hayden took over that role. When Stewart announced he was stepping down as the USA Hockey national referee-in-chief, Hayden was named his successor.
Hayden, 75, has always had a passion for rules and regulations for hockey. That all started in 1970 when he was playing intramural hockey at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI).
“One intramural game, no refs showed up, so they said, ‘Hey, you want to ref this?’” Hayden recalled. “So, I said, ‘Ah, what the heck.’ I went out and did it and never thought much more of it.”
In the early 1970s, Hayden started his professional career away from the rink, but got hooked on officiating while living in western Pennsylvania. With a few guys, he helped establish the Western Pennsylvania Hockey Officials Association. Hayden attended the International School of Refereeing, run by NHL officials. He made good contacts there and got involved on the support staff.
Always trying to advance officiating in hockey, Hayden came up with the idea of using video instruction for referees. The NHL caught wind of his idea and Hayden ended up meeting with league representatives to show the immense benefits at every level of hockey.
Hayden began as a local supervisor in the USA Hockey system in 1973 and worked with Mid-American District referees. He was appointed the Mid-American District referee-in-chief in 1983 — he moved to Monroe, Michigan, during that time — and served in that capacity for 11 years.
Along with Stewart, Hayden was a part of a seven-person group who put together the first situations casebook for USA Hockey in the mid-1980s.
In 1991, Hayden was named the USA Hockey Playing Rules Committee chair. He spent 12 years in that role.
“For those that have been around long enough to know Bob and his involvement, his niche probably was chairman of the Playing Rules Committee,” said Matt Leaf, USA Hockey’s officiating education program director. “He had a significant passion for the rules and rules writing . That wasn’t just with USA Hockey. He served several different terms over the years and still is actively involved with the National Federation of State High School Associations and their rules committee, including several years as chair of that as well.
“I think that was really his biggest passion and his biggest impact. He was chairman for the Playing Rules Committee at some times when we were starting to change the culture of body checking a little bit, changing the offside and changing the culture of the way the game was played within USA Hockey with an emphasis on puck possession.”
Hayden then took over as the USA Hockey national referee-in-chief in 1994.
“Bob gave USA Hockey all he had for a very long time,” Leaf said. “He served as the Playing Rules Committee chairman, was really active in the playing rules and the Youth Council and then on a variety of other places within USA Hockey. He was an extremely dedicated volunteer for a long, long time that made some significant contributions to the officiating program.”
In 2006, Hayden had some health issues and had to undergo open heart surgery.
“That came out OK. I just had to rethink a few things and prioritize some stuff and it turned out it was time,” said Hayden, who hung up his USA Hockey responsibilities in 2007.
Hayden’s contributions to USA Hockey came during an important time.
“Throughout that whole time in kind of that administrative role, that was a time when we were still becoming familiar with this thing called the internet and technology and he was a big proponent of the technology and getting it integrated into at least our systems on the officiating side of the world with regards to registration and things like that,” said Dave LaBuda, who is the current national referee-in-chief.
LaBuda said Hayden had a successful run as the USA Hockey national referee-in-chief because of his vast experiences at all levels of hockey.
“I think it was because he understands what the grassroots level was all about, because he had been a part of it and then stayed in touch with it,” LaBuda said. “Because of that, he was able to understand what was able to be integrated from a technology standpoint that would make the whole process easier for the grassroots official.”
Upon his retirement from USA Hockey duties, Hayden wanted to continue being involved at the local level.
Hayden was the treasurer for the Monroe (Michigan) Hockey Association from 1998-2012. He is still heavily involved with the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) and recently had a four-year stint as its Rules Committee chairman. Hayden has played a big role in getting rules unified among USA Hockey, NFHS and the NCAA.
Hayden stays busy during the hockey season as the general manager of the Bedford (Michigan) High School youth hockey team.
One accomplishment under Hayden’s hockey tenure that he’s most proud of happened at the state level in Michigan. After extensive research showed that kids around 12 and 13 would be good ages to be hockey officials, Hayden had pushback in the state because child labor laws wouldn’t permit that. With the assistance of a Michigan House of Representatives member, Hayden wanted to enact a new law. After 11 months of exhausting work by Hayden, a law passed for kids as young as 11 to work as officials. Hayden was at Michigan State Capitol next to the governor the day the bill was signed.
“My heart was beating hundreds of beats a minute that day as that happened,” Hayden said. “Of all the things that I look back on, that’s the number one thing that I say, wow. We did it.”
That was one of many achievements that aided Hayden in being named the Chet Stewart Award winner almost a quarter century later.
“I think it’s a very well-deserved honor,” LaBuda said. “He’s certainly made significant contributions to our game during his tenure.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.