"Pucks with Haggs" publishes twice a week. Subscribe here and get Pucks with Haggs straight to your email! Please feel free to comment, share, like, etc. And Subscribe! Thanks and see you at the rinks!
We’ve already witnessed female referees in both the NBA and the NFL over the last 15 years (take a bow, Violet Palmer), so it’s only a matter of time before there’s a female referee or linesperson at the NHL level as well.
That point snapped into much greater focus this week when Westfield, Mass native Katie Guay became the first woman to officiate an AHL game between Lehigh Valley and Wilkes-Barre Scranton on Oct. 16, a necessary steppingstone on the way to eventually donning stripes and whistle at the NHL level.
Guay and Kirsten Welsh are among an impressive 10 women establishing themselves at the AHL level during the 2021-22 season. Both Guay and Welsh took part in the Exposure Combine, an event designed to introduce former players to officiating and identify potential officials for the major hockey leagues around the world.
This led to Guay officiating some preseason Prospects Games in 2019, and Guay and Welsh helping officiate the 3-on-3 event during 2020 NHL All-Star weekend, and now has them among a large group of up-and-coming female on-ice officials journeying through the system.
"All these women are working in the second-best league in the world," said NHL Director of Officiating Stephen Walkom to NHL.com of the 10 female officials in the AHL this season. "They too can do it. There's a place for great officials in hockey, and they just need to get out and try it and stay with it to see if they love it."
"I've said before we're going to see a day when we see women working professional hockey, and that day is coming [really] quick. One day, we will see women in the NHL. It's just a matter of time."
It could very well be Guay, who entered the officiating world in 2006 after playing at Brown University and has been working games for 15 years while amassing a truly impressive refereeing resume. As one of her longtime supporters Paul Stewart wrote on his own blog this week, this trailblazing moment probably should have come for Guay five or six years ago.
“Frankly, she's good enough already to be in her fourth or fifth pro season, but changing minds and hearts takes time,” wrote Stewart, the longtime NHL referee and director of officials for the ECACHL who also trains up-and-coming referees. “These were all ‘Firsts’ [for Guay when she refereed men’s college hockey games] but to me they were assignments that were correct as the talent was there, the skating ability was there, the conditioning was there and my confidence in Katie was always there. I judge talent and didn't worry about X or Y chromosomes. When the ref sticks the arm in the air and blows the whistle, It's either a good call or not.”
Guay officiated at the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics, one of eight elite IIHF tournaments she's worked in her career. She has refereed Division I college hockey for both men and women, led the first-ever all-female officiating crew at the 2019 NCAA Women's Frozen Four and was the first woman to officiate the men's Beanpot Championship at TD Garden in 2019.
It's clear her time has come for the AHL, and perhaps the NHL isn’t too far behind given her experience and resume.
"Any time people are given chance and new paths are formed, it opens eyes for others to dream bigger,” said Guay. "My goal had always been the Olympics and so, when I had that opportunity in 2018, that's what I had been focused on for so long and that was a long-term dream and a long run to get there.
“I thought I made it to the top. It was around that time frame that the opportunity to attend the [NHL’s] Exposure Combine came up, and so it was great to be able to then set my sights on a new goal and aim bigger.”
With longtime NHL referees Brad Meyer, Dean Morton and Marc Joannette, and linesman Vaughn Rody all already announcing their retirements at the end of the 2021-22 NHL season, there is going to be a handful of NHL officiating vacancies next season. Here’s hoping around this time next year we’re all taking about Katie Guay busting through that NHL wall, and that she’s joining the NBA and NFL as a workplace where female officials have become the norm rather than something that seems notable for any reason.
It’s been a long time coming and, from the sounds of it, it’s almost there for women officiating in the National Hockey League.