It was only fitting that the first Russian to ever referee an NHL game would do it in Detroit, the city that assembled the Russian Five and is home to one of the all-time greatest Russian players in NHL history in Pavel Datsyuk.
Evgeny Romasko made history Monday night by becoming the first-ever Russian-born official to work an NHL game when the Red Wings defeated the Edmonton Oilers 5-2. It took Romasko just four minutes and 52 seconds to call the first penalty of his NHL career, a highsticking minor against Marek Zidlicky of the Red Wings, which impressed his boss, NHL director of officiating Stephen Walkom.
“It was a good read and a good catch,” Walkom told thn.com in a telephone interview after the game. “I thought he did a great job. He skated really well and was in sync with the game. He had to take the microphone a couple of times to announce the penalties and he handled that pretty well.”
It helped that Romasko worked his first game with veteran Paul Devorski, who is retiring after this season after a 26-year career. Devorski, who was convinced to stay on as a referee this season, also worked the first games of rookie officials Kendrick Nicholson and Garrett Rank this season.
“Devo told me that this guy was going to take his place after this year,” Red Wings coach Mike Babcock told thn.com in a post-game phone interview. “I didn’t know whether I should call him Gino or what. But I thought he did a great job and it was great to be a part of it.”
Romasko is a veteran of international hockey and the KHL and has spent most of this season working American League games. The league does not give out the refereeing assignments prior to games, but Walkom said Romasko is on the road with Devorski and will likely see more game action on this current road trip. “His work has just begun,” Walkom said.
Paul Stewart, who is the KHL’s director of officiating, said earlier this season that Romasko was the best-conditioned referee in the KHL and has an excellent grasp of the game. From what Walkom has seen of Romasko in the AHL and in his debut, he sees a bright future for him.
“He has all the attributes of someone who could make the (NHL’s officiating) team full-time in the future,” Walkom said. “Now it’s a matter of doing it on a consistent basis.”
Even though Romasko is 33, there is no reason to believe he can’t have a long NHL career. Devorski, who has worked three Stanley Cup finals and an Olympic gold medal game, is 56. And it’s only natural the NHL would begin to recruit officials from Europe. While there aren’t any Romasko protégés on the horizon at the moment, Walkom said the league is always looking.
“In the NHL we always want the best players and the best coaches,” Walkom said. “That goes the same for the officials.”