Showing Their Stripes

USA Hockey Officials Show They Have What It Takes To Reach The Big Time
Tom Worgo

From the time they step out of the locker room, make their way down the tunnel and take their first strides around the ice, everything about the atmosphere inside an American Hockey League arena is sensory overload.

From the banks of television cameras capturing every angle of the action to the capacity crowds of rabid fans to the scrutiny of the evaluators watching their every move, it doesn’t take much for these 10 female officials to know they’re not in Kansas anymore. Or any other stop they’ve made along the way of their officiating odyssey.

No, this is the big time, and these dedicated officials are determined to show they have earned their stripes.

“There is a lot more pressure because it is professional hockey,” says New Jersey resident and referee Laura White. “That’s where the intensity is. Everything gets more magnified. At that level, they want the Olympic consistency for any official that is going to step on the ice. They want to know what they are getting.”

The sheer number of spectators is what jumps out at referee Amanda Tassoni. The crowds—sometimes nearly 10,000 loyal and loud spectators—are much larger and more energized than they are at the games these officials have worked in women’s college hockey or junior leagues like the North American Hockey League.

“I think it’s inevitable we will get women officiating in the NHL.”

Scott Howson, American Hockey League President

“The most interesting thing for me is when I went out on the ice before a game in Hershey, there were just so many people in the rink,” says the 32-year-old Tassoni, who played college hockey in her home state of Rhode Island. “It’s hard to get used to.”

Tassoni and White are just two of the eight female American officials working AHL games this season. The others include referees Katie Guay, Jacqueline Zee Howard, Kelly Cooke, Samantha Hiller and linesmen Kendall Hanley and Kirsten Welsh.

A pair of Canadians, Elizabeth Mantha and Alexandra Clarke, have also joined the ranks.

They have earned the opportunity to participate in the NHL Officials Association’s mentor program, where they were first invited to an officiating training camp before moving on to work NHL teams’ rookie camp in August. From there it was on to the AHL’s officiating camp in September.

“We work closely with the NHL,” says American Hockey League President Scott Howson. “We wanted to see how they measured up. We decided it was time after we got through all the camps to pick seven referees and three linemen and put them in games.”
Like their officiating counterparts in other sports, these women have more than lived up to the intense pressure and increased scrutiny.

Given the strides women have made in other professional sports, this is another step in the natural progression that many consider long overdue.
The NBA has had women officials since 1997, and the NFL started employing Sarah Thomas, who worked last year’s Super Bowl in 2015.

“I think it’s inevitable we will get women officiating in the NHL,” Howson says. “They all have put themselves on a great track and they are gaining visibility. That’s how you do it.”

White loves the challenge of showing that she deserves the opportunity. She has consistently worked her way up the officiating ladder, starting with USA Hockey’s officiating development program before moving on to NAHL games for six years in addition to international contests.

“I like the exposure of the female side of the officiating community, to be able to grow our side and know these opportunities are out there,” says White, who played college hockey at Robert Morris University.

“It’s great that there are people that want to promote us and know we can get the job done the same as men.”

White and her counterparts aren’t intimidated by the increased attention or the negative feedback they see and read on social media. In fact, they view it as a motivator.
“I want to prove them wrong,” she says. “Some say we can’t do it in the AHL because we don’t have the size and speed and we don’t have the strength to break up fights.”  

Part of the growing process is learning from their mistakes, whether it is an offside call or a missed penalty.

In the post-game process, the evaluators go straight to the videotape. They also receive emails with video clips. It’s all done in the name of developing better officials.

“We have NHL and AHL supervisors there,” Howson says.  “[Vice President of Hockey Operations] Hayley [Moore] is there. I am there. They get feedback right away.”

Officiating in the AHL has helped White grow. She learned about the importance of positioning and the added responsibility has brought with it more self-confidence needed to succeed.

“The one thing that surprised me was positioning,” she says. “I felt I had more time and space to be away from the play and have more freedom to move where I needed to be. Say like the corners. So it was a priority to make sure where I consistently was on the ice.”

Minneapolis resident and linesman Kendall Hanley says off-the-ice preparation is crucial for working at this level. She has been officiating for 14 years, including the 2021 IIHF Women’s World Championship and the 2022 Olympic Winter Games. She is no stranger to the game, having played college hockey at SUNY-Oswego and serving as director of hockey for two organizations for six years.

“Doing homework and the behind-the-scenes stuff on the teams is very important,” Hanley says. “I scout them, watch videos to see what their movements are and how they take face offs. I look at the players and what they are about. I look to see if the teams played each other this season. If I haven’t been in the building before, I see how the gates, benches and doors are set up.”

Tassoni says that the players, AHL officials and other members of their crew have been extremely supportive. She appreciates the warm reception they have given her.

“The players on the ice before and after the game are always congratulating us and letting us know they are happy we are there,” she says.

Tom Worgo is a freelance writer based in Annapolis, Md.



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