It’s 5:45am on a Saturday. I’m standing in the center of an ice rink, wearing black nylon pants and a striped shirt, the attire worn by all Little League referees in our town. The cold air is doing little to calm the gentle throbbing in my head. My buddy Dan, who is also a high-school Senior, stands over by the boards at the Blue Line. He looks barely alive. Knowing we had the early game today, I left the kegger last night at around 11:00, but Dan stayed on. And it’s showing – it’s rare to see a 17 year-old get outskated by a group of nine year-olds. Fortunately, there’s only one period left in the game. If parents just stayed home and didn’t go on vacation, we wouldn’t be having these problems.
We wait for the last Squirt to assume his position at the face-off circle. The kid (the team’s Center) is back at the net talking to his goalie like the NHL players do on TV. I chirp my whistle to get the kid’s attention. He taps the goalie’s thick shin-pads with his stick and starts sprinting back towards us. The kid is wobbly, his body seeming to move in multiple directions simultaneously, but he’s giving it his all. He races up to the edge of the circle and turns his skates sideways, attempting to perform a dramatic stop that will fill air with ice shavings. But he pitches forward, lands on his stomach, and slides across the ice. The opposing team’s Center is thrown into the air.
This is exactly why I volunteer to be a ref. Last week a kid scored a goal and then started racing around the ice, triumphantly jabbing his stick into the air. His enthusiasm waned after he discovered that he’d just scored one for the other team by shooting the puck past his own goalie. But the rest of us enjoyed a good chuckle.
Order is restored and the kids fidget with anticipation. I drop the puck like a zookeeper releasing a piece of meat and get the hell back. The two Centers thrash with abandon and the puck zips away toward the Blue Line. Ten kids give chase as I move into position along the boards next to the players’ boxes. Suddenly, the puck comes back towards me. Ten kids pivot and converge on it, closing in on me from all directions. There’s no time to get out of the way as the puck comes to a stop near my feet. I place my hands on the boards, push my body up, and perch myself atop the wall (just like the NHL refs do on TV). The Squirts are hacking away below me when one kid, arriving late for the party, blows into the pack. He tries to stop himself, fails, and then slams into me. I fly off the boards and plunge into one of the players’ box. A bag of pucks breaks my fall while the Squirts and their coaches erupt into laughter.
Everything a ref does wrong needs to become a laughing matter. Even those hard-hitting Squirts who give 110% every weekend realize that it’s just a game.