Michelle Stapleton is one of only five female officials in Canada with Level V certification. Impressive credentials for anyone, but especially for
someone who grew up figure skating and didn’t play hockey until four years ago.
Growing up in Moose Jaw, Sask., Stapleton spent her early childhood figure skating. Competitions were few, but she regularly performed at festivals, with a
repertoire including basic camel spins and single Salchows. “Nothing too elaborate,” she says.
But as much as she enjoyed her skating, she couldn’t help but wonder if her brother’s chosen sport would suit her better.
“Throughout my childhood I always had to sit and watch my brother play hockey,” she says. “I wasn’t one of those kids who was allowed to run around the
rink. I always had to sit beside my parents.” Not that she minded: she was always a willing spectator at games, finding the on-ice action far more
interesting than anything other kids may have been getting up to along the concourse. “That’s how I really developed my love for the game.”
It’s also how she started learning about the game, the stands providing the perfect vantage point to see every moving part on the ice.
Her playing experience thus far limited to street hockey, she attended her first team tryout. It wasn’t an enjoyable experience, says Stapleton, so she
stuck to watching.
“Then my brother started to ref and I figured that would be a good way for me to get involved and make a little extra cash as a teenager,” she says.
By this point her figure skates had been left hanging for two years. Luckily, skating was part of the school phys ed curriculum and Stapleton had had time
to adjust to hockey skates.
“My skating ability is something I’ve worked on a lot over the years,” she says. “That was kind of the one thing I was told might hold me back, so I wanted
to make sure that I put in the time and effort in the off-season to improve.”
One thing she’s always been complemented on, though, is her game management. No time was that more evident than during a Bantam AA game last season, when
emotions ran high between a pair of non-conference foes.
“As we were walking out [afterward], we had probably six or seven parents tell us what a great game we had and how well we were able to handle it,” says
Stapleton. “That was kind of cool that way.”
In recent years she finally tried the game from the other side. She played defence for a team in the Adult Safe Hockey League for three seasons, where she
found her officiating instincts quickly kicked in.
“As a referee, when you skate backward you have to stay out of the play, so you transition more with your butt to the boards, so I would do that sometimes”
she says, “instead of transitioning toward the middle of the ice to cut off those lanes.”
This season Stapleton decided to focus solely on officiating.
Back in August 2014 the Saskatchewan Hockey Association nominated her to attend the inaugural Hockey Canada Level V Officiating Seminar. The call came as a
complete, but welcome, surprise.
“I want to be the best official I can be, gain all the experience that I can and embrace any opportunity that’s given to me,” says Stapleton, who by day
works as a field coordinator for a construction company.
There are more than 2,200 female officials registered with Hockey Canada. Only Stapleton and six others have achieved the highest level of certification.
As a Level V official Stapleton can call national and international games. Just a few weeks ago she worked the pre-tournament game between Canada and
Sweden ahead of the 2016 IIHF Women’s World Championship in Kamloops, B.C.
Most of the season, though, she officiates all levels of minor hockey, both men’s and women’s play.
The Esso Cup marks her second appearance at a national event in 2016; she worked the CIS Women’s National Championship in Calgary, Alta., in March.
It’s also her return to Canada’s National Female Midget Championship. Stapleton called lines when Regina hosted the event in 2010.
“It’s really exciting for sure, especially being able to come as a referee this year,” she says. “I’m excited for the whole group of girls because we’re
able to field a whole team of Saskatchewan [female] officials and it’s pretty cool to have that many to work with for the tournament.”