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Stewart won't pull punches

He's added to NESN rotation

It used to be good news for Bruins fans when Paul Stewart, the referee, was scheduled to work a Bruins game. It promised to be a lively night with an animated referee. We'll see how the Stewart style translates to TV as he "works" tomorrow's Canucks-Bruins telecast (NESN, 7 p.m.) in his debut as studio analyst alongside host Tom Caron.

Stewart will ease in, doing the intermissions and "Overtime" shows in his first outing. There's no pregame show because the game follows the Boston College-Rutgers football game.

"The only drawback," said Caron, "is that intermissions are only 15 minutes."

Stewart is as fearless in front of the mike as he was as an NHL player, referee, and cancer patient. He's a noted storyteller and great talk-show guest. This gig is one he's anticipated for years.

"I know I have to get to the point quickly," said Stewart, who, after being on hand at Gillette Stadium to help honor Cam Neely Tuesday night, went home and watched tape of the Bruins-Oilers game, "noting what I'd want to talk about.

"I knew this [TV] was something I wanted to do at some point," said Stewart, who also is working with AHL officials and for the Boston Bruins Foundation. "I was doing some prep work along the way and have talked about it with ESPN, TSN [Canada], and Westwood One radio."

Stewart's first hurdle came in elementary school, learning to overcome a stuttering problem. He hasn't stopped talking since.

Stewart was the guy who, when asked by his NHL bosses why his phone number was the only one (among league referees) in the phone book, said, "If you wanted me to blend in, why give me a black-and-white striped shirt with orange armbands?"

Don't expect Stewart to ignore officiating decisions when he's on air; on the contrary, expect explanations of why calls are made. "The best part of hockey is that it's spontaneous," he said. "If you want vanilla, don't go to hockey."

Caron had suggested to NESN president Sean McGrail that Stewart would be a great addition to the rotation of Rick Middleton, Neely, and Barry Pederson.

An opening came up on the schedule, and Stewart got the call.

The optimist says it just might be opening a new era in TV.

Mania follows James

Mike Reghi, who is in his 10th season of calling Cavaliers games for Fox Sports Net Ohio and WUAB in Cleveland, is enjoying the arrival of rookie LeBron James and the revival of basketball interest in Cleveland. "My first year was the end of the Brad Daugherty, Larry Nance, Mark Price era. This year is the best it's been here since then."

That's because of James and LeBron Mania, which come to the FleetCenter tonight (FSNE, 7:30). "LeBron knows how to play the game," said Reghi. "His arrival raised the energy level of everyone in the organization. And [former Celtic] Paul Silas has been terrific as a coach. He's an excellent teacher and an old-school, no-nonsense guy."

Reghi will call tonight's game with analyst (and former Cavalier) Austin Carr for the Cavaliers' over-the-air network. Carr is in his fifth season with Reghi, and, when games are on Fox Ohio cable, he swings over and works the pregame, halftime, and postgame shows. On Fox, Reghi is joined by former NBA player and coach Matt Guokas, a perfect partner when it comes to evaluating James. Guokas had Dr. J and Charles Barkley with the 76ers and coached Orlando when the Magic had a rookie named Shaquille O'Neal.

James has come along at the right time for Cleveland. "The Browns and Indians are down right now. The city is there for the taking," said Reghi.

So far, he has, and TV ratings almost have tripled. "Over the air on WUAB, the games have averaged an 8 rating," said Reghi. "Last year, they ranged from 3 to 3.5. On Fox, remembering that cable ratings run lower, they've jumped from a 1.8 last year to a 4.5 this season."

Delayed reaction

* Delays Dept.: WEEI (850) will do a delayed broadcast of tonight's Revolution-Fire Major League Soccer playoff game following the BC-UMass hockey game, which starts at 7. CN8 and Fox Sports World have the entire telecast starting at 8:30 with Brad Feldman and Adrian Healey (their audio will be heard on WEEI as well) . . . HBO reairs the Roy Jones Jr.-Antonio Tarver light heavyweight bout tomorrow at 9:45 p.m. HBO2 will show the fight at 9 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. Sunday.

* Milestones Dept.: Nate Greenberg, senior assistant to Harry Sinden, hasn't missed a Bruins home game (preseason, regular season, postseason) in 31 seasons with the team . . . DirecTV announced it had reached 12 million subscribers this week, but declined to say how many are in this region. "There's no doubt the New England area makes a significant contribution to that total," said a spokesman . . . NESN got its own High Definition TV production truck this week.

* From Beyond the Grave: This week's mail contained a letter with wonderful observations "signed" by Van Lingle Mungo, the late Dodgers pitcher. Next thing you know, Butch from the Cape will call to weigh in on the Evil Empire in Gotham.

* They're Back Dept.: John Claiborne, former president and general manager of NESN, has returned to the area after a stint in setting up the groundwork for an "Orioles TV" regional network in the Baltimore area. "They won't be able to go full speed until 2007," said Claiborne, "so I advised them to cut costs, starting with me." . . . NBC analyst Wally Dallenbach leaves the booth to drive in tomorrow's Busch Series race on the revamped (read: faster with more banking) Homestead-Miami track (Channel 7, noon).

* Mixing sports TV, business, and politics: The new and expanding ACC has hired International Management Group (IMG) to renegotiate its football deals with ESPN, ABC, and Jefferson-Pilot, according to reports in SportsBusiness Journal . . . College coaching greats Dean Smith (North Carolina basketball) and Tom Osborne (Nebraska football, now US representative from Nebraska) have lent their names and reputations to a campaign aimed at ending alcohol advertising on televised college sports events . . . Wednesday's scheduled Senate committee hearing on cable TV rate hikes was postponed. George Bodenheimer, ESPN and ABC Sports president; Gene Kimmelman, Consumers Union director; and Cox CEO James Robbins all were on the "guest" list.

* Dishing: NFL Network (Channel 212 on DirecTV) has an ironic way to compete with "Monday Night Football." It will air a special edition of "Heidi," the movie that forever will be linked with the 1968 Jets-Raiders telecast, Monday at 9 p.m. . . . CSTV has Michigan-Ohio State as its Friday night Hockey in HD offering at 8.

Bill Griffith's e-mail address is griffith@globe.com

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