Tuesday, 16 March 2021

Wearing The Stripes - The Refs

The IIHF came out with their list of officials who will be travelling to Halifax and Truro this May for the IIHF Women's World Championship, and it's a pretty big day with Canada sending seven officials to the event. They cover almost the entire country with only two provinces having more than one official going, but it's also a reflection of how far we, in Canada, have to go in developing good female officials for high-profile international events. For a hockey-mad country like Canada, that might be a bit of a slap in the face, but it's the reality for this country that we only have a handful of IIHF-calibre officials at this time.

We can discuss the state of officiating as a whole in a separate entry, though, because there are seven women who will be showing their stripes while wearing the stripes out in Nova Scotia during the Women's World Championship that we should meet. These incredible ladies have been officiating at the highest levels within their respective provinces, and some have seen the international stage before thanks to their progression up the IIHF ladder.

Five provinces, as stated above, are represented with both Quebec and Saskatchewan sending a referee and a lineswoman to the event. Some are former high-level hockey players while others have turned to coaching to stay in the game when they aren't officiating games. All, unfortunately, have been subject to some sort of abuse while wearing the stripes, and that kind of crap needs to end. These women should be role models for other girls to follow, but they're often belittled, disaparaged, and disrespected due to the sweater they wear, the gender they are, or both at the same time.

In saying that, HBIC will proudly look at each woman's career here because officials never get the spotlight they should as a potential way for people to stay in the game. Without officials, there is no game, and we should be driving more people to get into officiating rather than driving them away with our actions. We'll look at the lineswomen tomorrow, but if you're a younger or inexperienced official these are four referees after whom you should model your officiating career.

Lacey Senuk - Alberta

You likely already know Lacey Senuk from her work at the 2019 Women's World Championship where Finland and the US battled hard in a 1-1 stalemate only to see Finland score in overtime before the call was overturned by the IIHF. Lacey was one of the two referees in that game, and it should be noted that they ruled the goal was a good goal based on the call on the ice. For the record, Manuela Groeger-Schneider of Germany was the video judge in the game.

Senuk, who is 35, calls St. Albert, Alberta home. She played hockey with the Notre Dame Hounds, but started her officiating career in 2008. She began by working as a lineswoman at the 2009 Esso Cup, and refereed at the 2011 female midget AAA national tournament. She holds a Level-5 certification, and that has allowed her to work at the U18 World Championship, the Women's World Championship, the Canada Winter Games, U SPORTS, and other high-profile tournaments across Canada and the world. Among her accolades, she was named as Hockey Alberta's 2019 Official of the Year!

"There is a lot that goes into being a good official. Obviously, there is a lot of off-ice training that needs to happen. You don't just get to take the summers off and do whatever and then hop back on the ice and hope that you're at the same level. If you want to continue to progress there's lots of training that goes on off the ice and I've taken that a little bit more seriously the past few seasons than in previous seasons just with my mindset on different goals," Senuk told Jeff Hanson of the St. Albert Gazette.

When Lacey isn't working in rinks across the globe, she works as a safety advisor in the oil and gas industry in Alberta. However, it's pretty clear that Lacey has a passion for the game, and the game is better for her dedication to it!

Elizabeth Mantha - Quebec

Elizabeth Mantha calls Richlieu, Quebec home, but hockey has taken her all over the map. She is a U SPORTS National Champion after helping the University of Montreal Carabins win the 2013 Golden Path Trophy as a defender for the team, making her way to the Carabins after beginning her career with the University of Ottawa GeeGees. It was in Ottawa where she first took up officiating, working in the university's recreational leagues while wearing the stripes.

Among her achievements, Mantha, now 30, became the second woman to have landed an officiating position in the Quebec Midget AAA Hockey League. She's worked as a lineswoman at the IIHF Women's World Championship Division-IIB qualifer in Taipai, she's worked as a referee at a number of CWHL games in Montreal, reffed at the U18 Women's World Championship in Moscow, has officiated all sorts of tournaments across Canada at the minor-league level, and has been invited and gone to the NHL officiating camps. To this date, Mantha is the only woman in Quebec regularly refereeing men's games in the province.

How does one balance playing hockey at the U SPORTS level while pursuing an officiating career? It helps to have a coach who sees the long-term goals for the player, official, and the game.

"I was lucky to have Isabelle Leclaire as a coach at the University of Montreal," Mantha explained to Virginia Whitehead of Vaughn Today. "She was very understanding. She understands the issues of women's hockey; there aren't a lot of opportunities as a player. She really allowed me to benefit from all the experiences that were available to me. It allowed me to miss certain team activities to participate in referee selection camps. It's really not all coaches who would have done that."

Certainly, hockey has benefitted from Mantha's abilities as much as she benefitted from Leclaire's understanding, and that's awesome. When she's not on the ice, Mantha works as a superintendent at 911 Central in Montreal, so she likely can handle any pressure while on the ice after doing that job. However, it should also be noted that Elizabeth's ties to hockey run all the way to the NHL as she's the older sister of Detroit Red Wings star Anthony Mantha, so will we see two Manthas in the same NHL rink one day?

"Whether it is me or a future generation, I would like to see it with my own eyes and would like to help make it happen."

Cianna Lieffers - Saskatchewan

Cudworth, Saskachewan might not be on a list of place many have visited, but there might be a museum dedicated to Cianna in that town once all is said and done with her officiating career. The 26 year-old is already a Level-5 certified official - earning her certification at 23 and becoming just the third female official in Canada to do so - and turning that work into opportunities to call lines and referee games at every level in her home province, throughout Canada, and on the international stage. And while she doesn't have a U SPORTS background, she did attend a U SPORTS school as she graduated from the University of Saskatchewan!

Cianna has already written some history in her career as she was one of the four female officials who became the first all-female officiating crew at a Midget AAA game in Saskatchewan! She's worked U SPORTS games as part of her certification, SJHL games regularly, the Four Nations Cup, and the 2021 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 Women’s World Division-IIA Championship in Dumfries, Scotland! It's hard to believe that she quit officiating altogether at the age of 12 after being verbally abused by a coach while officiating a game, but her mom convinced her to start officiating again when she was 14. Hockey is all the better for it!

"She knew I was strong-minded, had a lot of drive and a competitive side," Lieffers told CBC's Doug Harrison. "She told me 'this is something you're going to be good at... give it another shot.'"

With Lieffers' successes and determination at such a young age, there's no doubt that she'll remain as one of the top officials in Canada and across the world, and I'll be here to cheer Lieffers on as a role model for all officials in this country!

Shauna Neary - Nova Scotia

Shauna Neary is the hometown favourite when it comes to the officials at the IIHF Women's World Championship as the Antigonish native gets the nod to call games in her home province! Neary was a goaltender for the AUS' Mount Allison Mounties where she was named as the Mount Allison Rookie of the Year and the AUS All-Rookie Team in 2004-05, but she returned to the AUS as an assistant coach with the Dalhousie Tigers. As it stands, Shauna is the only Level-5 female official in Nova Scotia, allowing her to work elite events such as the Women's World Championship.

Neary's career has seen her work a number of high-profile games in Nova Scotia, but her international tournament might be the most interesting part of her officiating career. She worked at the 2020 IIHF Womens World Hockey Division-III Championship in Sofia, Bulgaria that featured Romania, South Africa, Belgium, Hong Kong, Lithuania, and the host Bulgarian team. Upon returning from that event, Neary was named as an official for the 2020 U SPORTS National Women's Hockey Championship in Charlottetown, PEI. Later that summer, Hockey Nova Scotia named Neary as the Official of the Year! Neary was named as a referee for the 2018 Esso Cup in Bridgewater, Nova Scotia following her referee assignment at the 2017 Esso Cup in Morden, Manitoba! Needless to say, Shauna's seen most of Canada thanks to her work!

Shauna been a role model for a number of officials across Canada with her experience and knowledge of the game, and it's good to see her rewarded for her dedication to the craft of officiating with her inclusion at the 2021 IIHF Women's World Championship in her home province. While she won't be able to work games involved Team Canada, keep an eye on her in other games as she'll be making Nova Scotia proud!

Honestly, these four women have worked their tails off to get to this point, but it should also be mentioned that they're some of the best officials on the planet based on their experience and understanding of the game. Officials of all ages should be seeking out resources like these four ladies when they're looking to advance in their careers in stripes. They are, as stated, the best Canada has to offer.

Tomorrow, we look at the three lineswomen who will suit up at the 2021 IIHF Women's World Championship as they've all had incredible officiating careers as well! I know this year hasn't been the best when it comes to playing hockey, but let's remember to thank the officials for throwing the sweater on and managing any and all games that are played. No officials, no games!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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