My First Post.
(Al Sterner’s Note: I wrote this article on 3/22, three days before my friend Butchy Mousseau passed away. It was full of hope, and I’m just gutted that it didn’t work out that way. But if you don’t mind, I’d like to leave it intact, even though things changed so much after it was posted.)
About a month ago, my Dawg Nation family asked if I’d like to start writing a blog post for this website. They said I could pretty much write whatever I wanted, as long as I kept things maybe a little cleaner than my old blog, which I totally understand. I happily agreed, and I swear to God the first person I thought of to feature was Butch Mousseau.
I contacted him about three weeks ago, and asked if he’d have some time to sit down, maybe have a beer, and talk about his experiences, not only as a college and NHL ref, but share some of his stories about the beer leagues, and dealing with us ankle benders. Butchy’s been a friend of Dawg Nation for a long time- I think he’s volunteered for every Dawg Bowl tournament we’ve ever had, so he said he’d love to. But in typical fashion, he said there had to be somebody better to feature, and suggested a couple of the refs Dawg Nation had helped over the years. I said thanks, but he was the one I really wanted for my first post.
He said he was pretty busy because of the college playoffs coming up, but we could get together in the next couple of weeks. I even saw his college referee partner Peter Friesma at our Comedy Works charity show last Wednesday night, and told him to let Butchy know I’d be contacting him soon.
Then Last Friday Night Happened.
I knew this was going to be a whole different story than I originally planned. Skating during warmups, like he had done a million times throughout his career, he caught an edge at the blue line, fell backwards, and slammed his head hard on the ice. He fractured his skull in three places, and is fighting for his life as I write this.
So instead of writing about his experiences, I’m going to tell you about just a few of my own with him. I think it will give you some kind of insight into just how special Butch Mousseau is. I have about a hundred stories, but I’ll try to narrow it down to several. I’ll write the original article I was planning when he feels better, because I know in my heart he’s going to pull through this thing and get back out on the ice.
I Met Butchy About 17 Years Ago.
When I started playing beer league hockey up in Lafayette. He would referee almost all our games, and it was easy to see by the way he skated and handled a game that he was way above our crappy level. I remember saying to him one night, “Butchy, you’re a college and pro referee. How the hell can you stand to do games at our level?” He just grinned and said. “Al, I love this stuff! You guys try just as hard as they do.” About two or three times a year, before the game when he would skate down to my end to check the net for holes, I would say, “Hey Butchy- try to keep up with us tonight, will you buddy?” He’d always laugh and say, “I’ll try Al! Let me know if I’m slowing down!”
One night during a game, after the whistle one of my defensemen started banging with a player on the other team, as we tend to do every once in a while. Butchy blew his whistle again, and yelled, “Okay, knock it off, both of you! I’m in a bad mood tonight- I’ll take you both off for a misconduct!” They skated away, and he looked over at me and winked. “Al, do you think they bought that?” I said, “Yeah, I think so. They don’t know you like I do- you’re never in a bad mood.” He laughed and said, “Don’t tell them that, okay?”
We were in a championship game one time up in Lafayette, and the contest was really tight coming down to the final minute. We were up a goal when the other team took a shot that hit the crossbar, and then caromed over the glass and out of play. There were about 10 seconds left in the game.
Butchy skated up to me, and asked, “Al, did you touch that puck before it hit the crossbar?” If I did, the faceoff would be in our zone, giving the other team a lot better chance of getting the tying goal. If not, the faceoff would be in the neutral zone, and it would pretty much be game over.
He was telling me he respected my integrity enough to know I would tell him the truth, and he’d go with whatever I told him. No other referee would have ever asked me that question- they would have just made a call, good or bad. But it was important, and my friend wanted to make sure he got the call right. I didn’t hesitate for one second- “Yeah, I got a little piece of it with my arm.” He just smiled and said “Thanks, Al”, and whistled for the faceoff to my left. We ended up winning the game, but I’ll remember Butchy trusting me to do the right thing a lot longer than winning a championship.
There was another game where he was down at my end before the game checking the net, and he noticed me waving to a lady in the stands. He asked, “Al, who’s that?” I said, “Oh, that’s my mom. I started playing hockey as an adult, and she’s never seen me play before. I’m 48, and my mom is watching me play hockey for the first time. You believe that shit?”
He was genuinely touched by that. He waved to her, and made sure he introduced himself after the game. And almost every time after that, he’d ask about her, and always told his partner about Al’s mom seeing him play for the first time at 48 years old.
Okay, one more, and I’ll leave you guys alone. During a game at the Superior rink, I was just getting torched in the first period. I think I gave up three goals in the first ten minutes, and anyone that knows me can take a pretty good guess as to how well I was taking that. I don’t do many things well, but I can swear for about two minutes without repeating myself, and I brought out the full arsenal that night.
After Butchy fished the puck out of the net, he started to skate back to the center circle for the faceoff. But all of a sudden, he spun around, and started skating back towards me. I thought he was going to tell me to stop with the swearing already, but instead, he looked at me, and said, “Al, you have a strap loose on your helmet.”
I felt around, and said, “I don’t think so.” Then he reached up, and unsnapped one of the straps himself. He acted like he was adjusting it, reattached it and moved in real close to me.
“I just wanted to give you a second, buddy. Just take a deep breath and relax. It’s a game, Al- don’t forget how much fun this is. You’re all good.” He tapped me on top of the helmet, and skated back to center.
I didn’t give up another goal, and we ended up coming back to win the game. Boys and girls, if I live to be a hundred, I’ll never, ever forget what he did for me that night. He’s probably pulled the same loose strap trick with a ton of goalies over the years, and I hope they all appreciated it as much as I did. And I never got that angry for the rest of the years I played hockey.
For the past five or six years, I’ve been a baseball umpire, working a little bit in adult leagues, but mostly with the teenage and high school kids. Now I don’t want to toot my horn too loudly, but I’m halfway decent at it, and I get assigned to the important contests, like tournament championship games.
And you know why? Because I have completely patterned my style after Butch Mousseau. I’m friendly, I’m calm, I learn all the coaches’ names, and I joke with the kids, but at the end of the day, they know I work hard at my job and call a good game. And they’re almost always glad to see me, which makes me feel great.
Butchy was my mentor, and he doesn’t even know it. I learned everything I needed to know by watching him work while I was standing in my goal crease all those years. I’m hoping maybe someday I can be half the official, and a quarter the human being he is.
And I don’t know much, but I do know this. Whatever supreme being is out there isn’t going to let this special man, who is beloved by so many people, go out this way. He’ll come back from this, because we need him here for a while longer.