PORT McNEILL—When Conrad Browne promised he would referee a game with his son before Christmas, his wife Cyndi took the news with a heavy dose of skepticism.
After all, Conrad made the promise from an intensive-care unit bed in hospital in Victoria, where he was being treated for severe burns, a broken ankle and other injuries suffered when the family’s boat exploded July 2 in Port McNeill Harbour.
“I told him right out, ‘That’s not gonna happen,’” Cyndi said matter-of-factly. “You just do your recovery and worry about that later.”
Conrad apparently took the advice to heart. He wrapped up what was estimated to be a three-month ICU stay in six weeks. And he not only made good on his promise to join 12-year-old Benton Browne on a refereeing crew this fall — he made it back to the ice in time for Benton’s first game as an accredited official, on November 9 at Port McNeill’s Chilton Regional Arena.
“He’s pretty stubborn,” Benton said of his dad. “I thought he’d probably make it, but I thought it would be closer to Christmas.”
The pair managed to get in a second game together recently, when the North Island Eagles atom development team played at Chilton Dec. 15. But the first game, a bantam house meeting between the Port McNeill and Port Hardy clubs was particularly special.
“It was a very emotional day at our house — in a good way” Cyndi said. “I didn’t think it would happen. Certainly not that quickly.”
Conrad and Benton were both aboard the family’s live-in, 46-foot wooden boat in July when it was rocked by a tremendous explosion as Conrad tried starting its engine shortly after refuelling. With help from Steve Jackman of Port McNeill Fuel Dock, Conrad managed to rescue his son but both were injured in the incident. Conrad’s injuries were particularly severe, including the burns, broken ankle, and pieces of glass embedded in his foot and legs.
The community rallied to raise funds for the family, which lost nearly all of its possessions. The emotional pain of that loss is gradually receding, but the physical scars are all but gone.
“It kind of seems like it happened to someone else,” Cyndi said.
Conrad Browne has been a longtime official on the North Island, and also served as head coach of the North Island Eagles hockey program in 2012-13.
Benton Browne plays for the Eagles peewee hockey team and is among the area’s newest group of officiating recruits. However long he may continue refereeing hockey games, though, he is likely to always remember his first.
“It was pretty cool reffing with my dad,” he said. “It seems like something from a dream.”