It’s 5:45am on a Saturday. I’m standing in the center of an ice rink, wearing black nylon pants and a black-and-white striped shirt, the attire worn by all Little League referees in our town. I’m waiting 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 little guy’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 side, and slides across the ice. The opposing team’s Center is thrown into the air like a bowling pin.
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 a goal for the other team by shooting the puck past his own goalie.
Order is restored and the kids fidget with anticipation. I drop the puck like a zookeeper releasing a piece of meat and quickly scoot backwards. 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, races 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.
Fortunately, a bag of pucks breaks my fall.
The Squirts and their coaches erupt into laughter.
I swivel around on the wet rubber mats that line the floor of the players’ box and stagger to my feet. I look out at ten laughing little boys and smile. Then I punch a fist into the air in a “victory” sign.
Yes, the rough-and-tumble world of Little League Hockey is highly competitive, but we don’t take ourselves all that seriously.
(photo courtesy of Jamie Roach/Dreamstime.com)