It was just another night on the job for Grace Barlow, Melissa Brunn, Colleen Geddes and Megan Howes, but it marked a historic step forward for women in the officiating world.
The quartet became the first all-female officiating crew in Junior A hockey history on Sunday, Oct. 17, working the Langley Rivermen vs. Surrey Eagles game in the British Columbia Hockey League (BCHL).
All four – Barlow and Howes are referees, Geddes and Brunn are linespersons – are products of the Hockey Canada Officiating Pathway, having worked their way from their local hockey associations through the B.C. high-performance program.
“The success these officials have achieved is a testament to their perseverance and dedication to their craft,” says Dan Hanoomansingh, manager of officiating with Hockey Canada. “Yes, it’s a history-making night, but with the work being done at the Member level, the hope is this becomes commonplace in the not-too-distant future.”
While Barlow and Geddes are making their BCHL debuts this season, Brunn and Howes have a few games of Junior A experience under their belts, including working a pair of exhibition contests featuring Canada’s National Women’s Team on Oct. 5 in Trail and Oct. 6 in Cranbrook.
“It was a little bit surreal,” Brunn says of working the Team Canada games. “Sharing the ice with some people that we've only ever seen on TV [was a new experience].”
Barlow, Brunn and Howes also got the call to officiate at the 2019 National Women’s Under-18 Championship in Morden and Winkler, Man., Barlow saw the ice at the 2019 National Aboriginal Hockey Championship and all four have experience in men’s and women’s hockey at various levels in the province.
“We know what's happening, we know the rules, we have a level of familiarity. We've done this a million times before,” Brunn says of how she approaches every game, regardless of the level.
The game in Surrey – which fell on the final day of World Girls’ Ice Hockey Weekend – is the latest in a flurry of news items highlighting the achievements of women in the officiating world.
Alex Clarke became the first female linesperson in Western Hockey League and Canadian Hockey League history on Sept. 24, and Kirsten Welsh earned that honour in the Ontario Hockey League on Sept. 30.
Clarke and Welsh also joined Elizabeth Mantha and seven American officials as the first women hired Oct. 11 by the American Hockey League, the second-best league in North American pro hockey.
It’s just the start, according to Hanoomansingh.
“A few years ago, we were celebrating when a single woman broke into a Junior A or B league. Now, we’re seeing multiple officials breaking those barriers at every level.
“Ultimately, we must target proportional representation of women in junior and professional leagues,” he says. “These women are still an anomaly and we should celebrate their accomplishments, but we must continue to create further opportunities for women to excel in officiating.”