Referee Evgeny Romasko is returning to Russia. The veteran official is heading home to wear the stripes in the KHL after four seasons in North America as a referee in the AHL and NHL.

Romasko officiated 66 NHL games, with his first on March 9, 2015 between the Detroit Red Wings and Edmonton Oilers.

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Romasko said his return home was not about money.

“The conditions [in the KHL] are about the same,” he said. “I’ve got an offer and I happily accepted it after four seasons in North America. I think that it has been a great period in my life. I tested myself in a strong league and gathered invaluable experience. Now it’s time to apply my knowledge at home.”

Though he’s spent the past four years in North America, the Tver native has remained on the KHL’s radar.

“We didn’t lose Evgeny of sight in these years,” said Alexei Anisimov, KHL Chief Referee. “Of course, we followed the first – and thus far only – Russian official in the NHL. The four seasons he worked abroad are an indicator of his high professional level. I am sure that these seasons will be very useful to him as he gathered a lot of valuable experience, which can now transmit to us. I express my deepest congratulations to Evgeny for his return, our officiating team is happy to welcome him back at home.”

Romasko came to North America on a tryout basis. His first AHL game came on November 17, 2014, working a game between the Norfolk Admirals and Syracuse Crunch. While it was a great oopportunity, it also presented a challenge for the Russian ref, who was splitting time between the AHL and KHL – flying back and forth to work games.

“I started working in the AHL without having signed an official contract,” said Romasko. “Moreover, I was still under contract with the KHL so from time to time I had to get back home and start officiating there too. I flew a lot in that period, but I always tried to be in an ideal shape.”

Fitness has always been a priority for Romasko.

“Bar none, he’s the best-conditioned referee in the world right now,” said former NHL referee Paul Stewart, then the KHL chairman of officiating evaluation, at the time of Romasko’s move to the NHL. “He’s a former defenceman who’s strong physically and is an outstanding skater.”

Romasko certainly impressed in his limited appearances, as he was offered an AHL/NHL contract for the 2015-16 season.

While he was solo his first year, his family joined him in the US for his second professional season, opting to settle down in Hershey, Pennsylvania, a town centrally located for travel by both air and car – and near that of his mentor Paul Devorski.

From SI’s Alex Prewitt:

Devorski became a valuable resource for Romasko. “Anything you need to know, just ask,” he told the Russian up front, and there were many questions. How do officials enter at the arena? Which hotels should he book? Where is the nearest grocery store?

When Romasko’s wife and children immigrated in August and settled into their new apartment, Devorski brought over a chair, ottoman and couch for the living room. Over the summer, Romasko’s family came over for barbecue and swimming. “He was trying to suck in so much information in a short time,” Devorski says. “He’s a sponge.”

Romasko also worked without a translator, spending time studying, taking courses online, and even talking with call center representatives from a cell phone company to practice his English.

“These talks helped me a lot. As a result, I worked very hard and my English became good. There was no other way. I needed to communicate my decisions to coaches, players, and be sure that they would understand.”

“All the communication with supervisors was, of course, in English. I truly had to start understanding everything right away.”

Not only did he have to understand, but he also needed to explain calls — both to the benches and to the fans.

 

Working hard on communication, it was Romasko’s other skills that landed him the NHL job.

“I have been told, there were three things [that NHL Officiating Management team liked]. First, my experience in the KHL, having officiated almost 300 games. Second, my skating. Third, my rigidity in decision-making. I was followed for a long time and I was scouted at the U18 and U20 WJCs.”

It was all of that which brought Romasko to North America, and it’s all those skills – and more, learned during his tenure – that he’ll bring back with him to Russia.

“It’s an international game and we have a lot of great Russian players,” said Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Mike Babcock, who was behind the Red Wings’ bench for Romasko’s NHL debut. “There’s good refereeing all over the world.

“When you get the chance to referee in the NHL and go back to your country and get the opportunity to make the referees in your country better with your experience,” added Babcock, “it’s a positive thing for hockey.”

Romasko plans to do exactly that.

“I have no regrets,” Romasko said of his time in North America. “It’s simply time to get back home. Here it’s more comfortable, easier. And the KHL is one of the top leagues in the world.”