No Retreat, No Surrender

Picking up the white flag and placing it on the end of my weapon, I started to wave it slowly. It meant total surrender. I wasn’t a soldier on the frontlines giving in to the ignominy of defeat. I was sitting on the bench during a hockey game in Ottawa’s R.A. Centre (Recreation Association) and the white flag was a towel draped over the blade of my hockey stick.

Are you confused enough already ? Let me backtrack a tad. I was playing in an 0ver-35 R.A. hockey game and my team had just been assessed our seventh penalty in a row. I know it was seven because I went to the official stats after the game on the website and counted them. I know you’re thinking… this guy has too much time on his hands. He also shouldn’t be taking a beer league hockey game so seriously. All true. But puppy love isn’t very important either… unless you’re one of the puppies.

Just about all that I know in life I’ve learned from the classroom of hockey. From my love of exercise to the French I used to make my living; it’s all due to my abiding passion of the pursuit of the puck. But in the heat of the moment and during the stress of a game my mind often moves into mush mode and any life lessons are as dimly remembered as an Alzheimer’s patient trying to recall the morning’s breakfast menu.

What are these life lessons I’ve learned so thoroughly as to make my life as roaringly successful as it stands now ?

Don’t question anyone’s level of competence or judgement, especially in public. Particularly if they hold any kind of authority over you.
Act contrite even if you don’t mean it.
Don’t keep making the same mistakes over and over again.
And these lessons I have learned particularly from dealing with referees.

Anyone who knows me will back up my claim that I have few opinions, foibles or prejudices in my life. Well… okay. I can concede a few. And two of them are against goalies and referees. The former have thwarted me many times in one of my most extreme pleasures in life; scoring goals.(Yes, my life is that shallow.) Also, I question the sanity of that small subset of mankind that willingly thrives on the activity of finding recreation and fulfillment in letting others fire objects of vulcanized rubber at them with no chance of returning the favour. Very perplexing.

But there is a special place reserved in hell for those in the referee’s union. I find many of them arrogant, uncommunicative, incompetent and entitled. Did I already mention that I am not one to hold strong opinions ? First of all, they are getting paid to perform their admittedly essential duties, the only ones in amateur hockey so rewarded to be on the ice. And second, along with that reward comes a certain responsibility to put up with the pettiness of those frustrated, low-skilled athletes who have never been paid to perform. Hence, it is their responsibility to take all manner of abuse with the stoic aplomb and stiff upper lip of which the English so provided the example while holding out against the German blitz- bombing attacks on London during the Second World War.

My, my, you might be saying to yourself by now. That’s a lot of vitriol even by your lofty standards. But have you never heard the old adage that hell hath no fury like a woman scorned ? At the beginning of my retirement a retired cop-turned referee mentioned to me that he was supplementing his pension quite handsomely by officiating all manner of hockey games during his now freed-up daytime hours. He suggested that I might be so inclined and gave me the referee-in-chief’s phone number.

The ensuing phone call found the boss-man less than impressed with neither my sterling credentials (I had not yet taken even the Level 1 certificate) nor my experience ( I had officiated house-league on outdoor rinks back in the 1960s in my native Montreal.) I had quit even that humble beginning when I could no longer take getting slashed across the shins while dropping the puck on faceoffs.

“I’ve got too many referees already,” he grumpily informed me, before hanging up suddenly, leaving me as forlorn as a rebuffed panhandler on Bank Street.

Maybe I can volunteer my services at some point. You know, like young people ‘happy’ to work as unpaid interns to possibly secure a pinky-hold in today’s tenuous job market. Or maybe I’ll just stay aloof and continue to curse out the wretches lucky enough to wear the striped sweaters.

After all, like Groucho Marx, I wouldn’t want to belong to any club that would have me as a member.

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