Apr 062010
 

We’re on the ice at the Skatium in Fort Myers hard at play when a dapper little guy dashes out wearing a full referee’s uniform. He barrels around the ice, warming up, then pulls out a whistle.

“Tweeeet!”

“Offside!” he shouts, snagging the puck off the ice and motioning the guys to line up for a faceoff. Like sheep, we obey.

Seconds later, there’s another blast of his whistle.

“Tweeet!”

“Icing!” he bellows. He stands in the faceoff spot while one of the players directs the puck to his feet. He drops the puck between two sticks and blasts his whistle again.

This goes on for five or ten minutes. There’s a faceoff every few seconds and the guys begin to grumble.

“Who the hell is that guy?” someone asks. “Who told him we needed a referee?”

“Nobody invited him,” Dave St. Andrews says. “He just showed up,”

“Then tell him to go home,” I say. “We lose 15 seconds of playing time every time he blasts that friggin’ whistle.”

Dave calls the ref over to our bench. “Not so many whistles, pal. They eat up too much time. Besides, we’re used to calling our own offsides.”

The guy looks offended. Just then a defenseman slaps the puck into the net.

“Tweeet!” goes the whistle.

“How about that one?” says the ref, looking over his shoulder. He dashes in to retrieve the puck. “That was a good whistle.”

We don’t argue.

But he must have sensed how we all felt.

Two more offsides follow. He wanted to blow them down but he hesitated. No “tweet”. Then he lets an icing go.

Silence.

A ref who can’t “Tweet” is no ref at all.

A few minutes later he was gone. Off the ice and into the dressing room.

Pissed off, no doubt.

But what do we care. We don’t give a hoot—or a “Tweet”.

Dec 082009
 

Winnipeg Danny

That’s what the Snowbirds hockey team calls our friend from Manitoba. He’s a slight, dark-haired 65 year old and he’s a charter member of our club. We play out of Fort Myers, Florida three mornings a week and  it’s a bonus if Winnipeg Danny is on your side. He knows the game and plays it well.  His passes are sharp and on the mark. He’s a clever playmaker and an excellent skater, a presence on the ice. He’s a good scorer because his shot has not lost its sting and he drills a lot of pucks over the goalie’s shoulder into the upper corner of the net. In the room he’s quiet, intelligent. When he talks  we listen  because he knows his hockey. He’s a gamer, he fits in.

Yesterday I missed our ice time because I’m recovering from bruised ribs. But I got a call late in the afternoon from Dave, who is our leader and organizer.

“I’ve got bad news,” he said. “Winnipeg Danny left the locker room after our workout and sat down on one of the benches next to the rink. He told one of the players passing by that he felt a “bit hot” and then lay down on the bench. His teammate talked to him briefly, then said goodbye.

Moments later, another player came out of the room and saw Danny face down on the floor. At first, he thought Danny was about to do some  pushups or some such thing but then noticed there was no body movement. He called for help and luckily, on this day,  two firemen from Fort Myers were playing with us. They sprang into action, felt for a pulse and found none, then used a paddle and CPR to get Danny’s heart pumping again. The firemen knew immediately what to do. None of the rest of us would have.  The firemen literally saved Danny’s life–at least for the moment. Danny was rushed to a nearby hospital then flown by helicopter to another hospital where surgeons waited. Danny was rushed into an operating room. I was told that stints were inserted but that procedure was unsuccessful  for some reason, Danny’s chest was opened for bypass surgery.

All day his teammates  communicated their shock and concern by phone and email and one or two talked with Danny’s wife.

We’re all waiting for further word on the status of Winnipeg Danny.

He’s alive and in recovery but not out of danger. Not even close. How long, we wonder, was he facedown on the floor with no heartbeat? How much potential damage did he suffer in those brief moments?

Life can be so fragile, so uncertain.

We’re just a bunch of old hockey jocks, reluctant to give up the game we love. We know the risks we take but we play on. It could have been any one of us who tumbled off that bench and fell unconscious to the floor.

But it was Danny, a good fellow, a good teammate, and we pray for his full recovery.

He may never play hockey again but he’ll always be one of us, one of the Snowbirds.

Brian McFarlane