Women featured at NHL Officiating Show Session

BUFFALO- The NHL and its annual Officiating Showcase help women reach new heights in the world of officiating.

Linesmen Alexandra Clarke and Kirsten Welsh each broke barriers in 2021-22. Clarke became the first female referee in the Western Hockey League (WHL), and Welsh made history in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL).

They were also among the first 10 women to work as referees in the American Hockey League (AHL).

« It’s exceeded so many expectations, » Welsh said. It’s just amazing to see the opportunities that have come out of this camp. It was a quick climb and I wouldn’t be here today without all the help I received along the way. »

Clarke and Welsh were among nine women participating in this year’s Session, held at LECOM Harborcenter in Buffalo. Clarke was attending for the first time, while Welsh was on his third appearance.

Normally, the NHL hopes to have 12 to 14 women at camp each year, a huge increase from the first edition when only one woman attended. Thirty-nine women have taken part in the camp since.

In 2019 and 2021, the NHL selected four women who participated in the Officiating Exposure Session in those two years to work in rookie tournaments across the NHL. This will be the case again this year.

Clarke and Welsh will be there; Clarke will officiate at the 2022 Young Star Classic in Penticton, B.C., and Welsh will officiate at the 2022 NHL Prospects Showcase in Raleigh, North Carolina. Both tournaments will take place from Friday to Monday.

« It’s exciting, » said Al Kimmel, director of NHL scouting and officiating development. “The first step was to give them an opportunity. […] General managers and coaches were initially hesitant about Kirsten and Alexandra due to the robustness of the altercations, but Alexandra and Kirsten are fearless. They are far from intimidated. And they can handle the ruggedness of the game. Once everyone sees that, they’re accepted, by players and coaches and managers alike. »

The NHL also provides them with off-ice opportunities through the NHL/NHL Referees Association mentorship program. The program connects them with NHL referees, offering women the chance to gain insight into various areas related to the profession, from preparing for on-ice situations, adversity and more, through the through conversations during the season.

« There’s nothing better than learning from people who are the best in the world, » Clarke said. They are open to giving us their time, helping us grow and reinvesting in women’s development. »

« It’s really heartwarming to have that support and people who want to see you do well, » Welsh added.

Last season was crazy for Clarke. In addition to the WHL and AHL, she was also called upon to referee women’s hockey during the 2022 Olympics in Beijing.

“I think it shows again all the hard work behind the scenes for so many years. It’s finally paying off, Clarke pointed out. We have worked extremely hard for many years to achieve these levels […] and it finally works today. Women get their chance and they are successful. »

Clarke turned to refereeing when a knee injury interrupted her playing career. A former defenseman, she was drafted by Calgary into the defunct Canadian Women’s Hockey League after four years at St. Scholastica University in Duluth, Minnesota. Forced to retire, she missed hockey tremendously.

She considered the option of becoming a coach, but ultimately opted for the world of officiating, seeing an opportunity to give back to her sport and stay involved.

And today, she continues to give back by spreading the word.

« I’m involved in several high school programs, » Clarke said. The biggest advice I give is to keep refereeing in mind. I encourage them to see this as a great opportunity for a career. »

Welsh entered the Officiating Show Session for the first time in 2019 at the suggestion of her assistant coach at Robert Morris University, where she was playing defense for the Colonials.

« The camp allows women to stand out and try the experiment to see how they behave in front of other people considered, » explained Welsh. It is expanding at a high rate. I also try to encourage movement. When I see players I played with in college wanting to hang up their skates, I say to them, « Why don’t you try it? ». »

As more and more women choose to try it, the road to the NHL seems to be taking shape.

« The barriers have been broken down and there will be more and more opportunities every year, » Kimmel said. The more their abilities increase, the better the chances of seeing women working in the NHL at some point, I’m sure. »

Laisser un commentaire