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NICHOLAS MERCER: Dwight Ball escapes his premier duties by hitting the ice

Dwight Ball tries to whack a puck behind goaltender Jason George towards the end of his weekly skate in Deer Lake on Sunday evening.
Dwight Ball tries to whack a puck behind goaltender Jason George towards the end of his weekly skate in Deer Lake on Sunday evening. - Nicholas Mercer

"Here comes the president."

Hollered from the visitor's bench of the Hodder Memorial Recreation Complex in Deer Lake, forward Jodie Rice isn't referring to Donald Trump or Barrack Obama.

He is referring to Dwight Ball, who’s ready to change-up.

The Newfoundland and Labrador Premier had just made the extra play to get the puck out of his zone when he decided it was best to let fresher legs on the ice.

"(Ball) loves it when I call him Mr. President," Rice says again before pushing himself over the boards and racing into the play.

Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Dwight Ball watches the game unfold in front of him from the bench at the Hodder Memorial Recreation Complex in Deer Lake Sunday.
Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Dwight Ball watches the game unfold in front of him from the bench at the Hodder Memorial Recreation Complex in Deer Lake Sunday.

Ball and 19 other skaters — plus two goaltenders — are in the midst of their regular Sunday night game of pickup hockey.

The white team — the premier's side — has just scored off a dandy shot from Andrew Strangemore and they're trying to figure out the score.

Even when the game doesn't count, bragging rights always do.

Deciding on a 3-2 advantage for squad red, the game starts to pick up. Players watch for offsides, skate with the puck when they have room and bark at each other from the benches.

After a particular play where a scoring play was negated by what would be a holding penalty, one bench bellows for a penalty shot.

With no referees in sight, however, that free scoring chance never materializes.

Between the Deer Lake skate and a Tuesday night option at St. Bon's in St. John's, Ball tries to lace up his skates at least once a week.

It is never easy, depending on his laundry list of duties.

As you can imagine, being the province’s political leader doesn't always leave you with a lot of free time.

Just last Friday, Ball met with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in St. John's. On Tuesday, he is scheduled to attend a volunteer luncheon in the capital city.

Sundays are usually reserved for getting familiar with what is going on in the province. He reads the news, catches up on some work and spends time with family before its time to be premier again.

"This is a reset button for me that I look forward to once a week," said Ball, moments before hitting the ice. "It lets you be normal again, which is always important."

When the House opens again, Sunday nights become more about catching a flight to St. John's than it is adjusting his helmet in Deer Lake.

On the nights Ball is in town for the skate, there is no chatter of the Muskrat Falls inquiry on the bench or questions about budgets items when lining up for the opening faceoff.

Ball's best scoring chance came with just a couple of minutes left in the hour-long skate. After tipping a shot from the point into the pads of Jason George, the puck bounced around in the slot.

Then, something completely unexpected happened.

The white team pulled their goaltender and pushed for the equalizer as they trailed by one. The puck came to Ball just outside the red team's blue-line.

Taking a couple of strides to his right, he dumped the puck in the corner. Using a well-worn hockey cliché, Ball got the puck deep in hopes something good would happen.

In games like these, the puck tends to bounce around as time expires. Tired players whiff on clearing chances and the puck finds people.

Just before the sound of the buzzer, a one-timer that hits the back of the net means a tied game.

Excitedly, the white team all point to the clock overhead and smile. They'd done it.

"I didn't think Dwight's dump at the end was going to work but it did," Dave Pelley said to no one in particular.

There isn't much political speech. They talk about the work week behind them, the one about to come and how many chances at an open net they missed.

After a couple of cold beer had their stoppers twisted off, there was talk of National Hockey League trades, the games the night before and why Rice was wearing a cut off white athletic sock around his right wrist (it provides support for an injury he was nursing).

Checking his cellular phone in his right hand and cradling a beer in this left, Ball is just a right winger with a nose for the puck and is taller than most.

He is amongst account managers, technicians, musicians and volunteer firefighters.

He's just one of the guys looking for a break from regular life for a couple of hours.

Ball left the dressing room Sunday night with his gear in tow. The next morning, he had a flight back to the east coast as many duties beckoned

The big red dressing room shut behind him.

He was the premier again.

nicholas Mercer is the online editor with The Western Star. He lives in Corner Brook and can be reached at Nicholas.mercer@thewesternstar.com.

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