Publish date:

Well, There's Still Fighting

NHL referee Dave Jackson, locked out of his regular job, has his hands full as a substitute teacher

The NHL owners insist on a salary cap, and the players' association contends market forces must rule, but the unassailable truth about hockey's monthlong state of suspended animation is this: Even a locked-out referee has to eat.

So instead of working a game in Tampa or Minneapolis last week, 13year veteran NHL referee Dave Jackson was working with the fifth- and sixth-graders on the Spring Garden Elementary School team-handball squads, which were playing in an outdoor tournament near their Montreal suburb of Dollard-des-Ormeaux. Until hockey comes to its senses, Jackson is scraping together some cash in the noble field of substitute teaching. In the past month he has monitored a high school science test, explained to seventh- and eighth-graders that Indonesia can't be found in the Caribbean, broken up a scuffle between eighth-graders, mopped up a puddle left by a nervous kindergartner, reffed fourth-grade floor hockey, handed out detention and coached handball.

When asked moments before the Spring Garden Stingers took the field how much he knew about handball, Jackson mouthed, "Nothing"--precisely the kind of answer that ref-baiting Maple Leafs coach Pat Quinn might have given if the question had been about Jackson's hockey savvy.

Without the aid of linesmen but blessed with a thick skin and a sense of humor, Jackson spent the next four hours exhorting and substituting and answering questions from 20 children, including, "Can I go to the playground?" "If I paid you five bucks, would you let me have a cup of coffee?" and "Mr. Jackson, what are those two dogs doing?"

Instead of an NHL salary a little north of $150,000 a year, Jackson is earning a little more than $150 Canadian a day. He has a background in child development and abnormal psychology, and that's just from refereeing Philadelphia Flyers games. No, actually he aced those courses in college during the last NHL lockout, in '94. This time, at the urging of Chuck Poirier, a principal who was Jackson's high school phys-ed teacher, he found work as a sub. "There aren't many jobs I can get," Jackson says. "It's not like you can go to a company, expect them to train you and leave three months later, or whenever the NHL season starts."

The money is helpful, but subbing also affords Jackson, who lives in New Hampshire with his second wife during the season, a chance to spend more time with his sons from his first marriage, Shayne, 11, and Ryan, 9. "I've never taken my kids trick-or-treating before," says Jackson, who continues to receive his NHL medical and pension benefits during the lockout. "I want to make the most of it."

While subbing has its perks--16,000 screaming fans don't question his judgment when he decides to organize relay races rather than games of fox-and-chicken--Jackson has developed a huge appreciation for teachers. He works 12 NHL games a month; they work five days a week. He rarely sees the same team back-to-back; they see the same bunch nine, 10 months a year.

"Focus is important in both jobs," he says. "You lose your focus in a hockey game for 10 seconds, the roof caves in on you. You lose your focus for 30 seconds, especially in a phys-ed class, there's going to be someone lying bleeding on the floor."

There was no blood in team handball on Jackson's watch, only snacks, raggedy lines for the postgame handshakes and a 622 record, a stirring accomplishment for the Stingers, who had gone winless in the same tournament the previous year. One Spring Garden parent suggested Jackson had found his true calling, but he aw-shucksed his handball acumen, saying it's like that in the NHL when a team wins its first game or two for a new coach. He definitely plans to keep his night job.




Jackson is dropping pucks for schoolkids rather than dodging NHLers.



 [See caption above]