Back in November, referees Erin Blair and Katie Guay became the first female referees to officiate a game in the Souther Professional Hockey League (SPHL). The duo had a solid debut, though it was a busy night. Blair and Guay called 29 penalties totaling 94 minutes, including two fights. The Columbus Cottonmouths edged out the Fayetteville FireAntz with a 5-4 overtime win on the strength of the third woman on the ice, Columbus goaltender Shannon Szabados.
The league was so impressed by the officials, they’ve offered an opportunity to do it again. Friday night’s game – once again between the Cottonmouths and FireAntz – will be officiated by two female officials. Erin Blair returns to the ice, this time alongside referee Jamie Huntley. (Guay is scheduled to work an NCAA game that night.)
Referee Jamie Huntley
Huntley’s first international experience came at the Four Nations Cup in 2013. She’s also slated to work the 2015 IIHF Women’s World Championship later this year in Sweden. Katie Guay, who worked an SPHL game with Blair earlier this year, will take the ice with Huntley at the Women’s World Championship. When she’s not keeping order on the ice, she’s doing it on the streets. Huntley’s day job is as a police officer in San Diego, California.
“To me, it’s another hockey game,” said Huntley, “but it’s also another great opportunity to get another high-level game under my belt.”
Referee Erin Blair
Blair has been wearing the stripes for 14 years, 10 of those internationally with the IIHF. She’s worked ten different tournaments, including the 2011 Women’s World Championship, the 2009 Women’s U18, and, most notably, the 2014 Sochi Olympics.
“I’m actually closer to the end of my career,” Blair told USA Hockey, “but I’m excited about taking the opportunity to open doors for others. There are so many girls who would not only do well but thrive in this environment. I wanted to take advantage of this opportunity and do a good job.”
Female Officials’ SPHL Debut
Emery Olauson, head coach of the Fayetteville FireAntz, spoke positively of the officials’ performance in that November game.
“I think it shows that the game is growing,” Olauson told the Fayetteville Observer. “For their first game of men’s pro hockey, they did a fairly good job. There are some physical differences in the men’s game that I think would take more than one game of getting used to, but they did a fine job of calling the game. They’re quality officials.”
Columbus coach Jerome Bechard agreed. “I thought they did unbelievably [well],” said Bechard. “They had more presence out there than some of the male referees in our league do. They didn’t take any crap off of anybody. I thought they called a great game. They weren’t a part of the outcome of the game and they called what was supposed to be called.”
Blair adapted quickly to the pace of play, despite the differences of officiating a professional men’s game.
“It was fun, but once we got going, it was just another hockey game,” Blair said. “The speed of the game wasn’t any faster than a U.S.-Canada women’s game. Obviously, the women aren’t as physical, but hockey is hockey. There are things you can do and things you can’t do. I don’t think it was any faster than the women’s game. It just had the added physical element is all.”
Both teams were pleased with how the first female-officiated SPHL game went. So was USA Hockey’s Director of Officiating, Matt Leaf.
“The game in Columbus went very well, most importantly from the hockey competitiveness standpoint,” said Leaf. “Once that part was settled, then the promotions part of if went very well, too. I guess that’s where [tonight’s game] came into effect. Mark [Faucette, the SPHL’s Director of Officiating] said, ‘We’d like to do this again in Fayetteville.'”
“Overall, I felt like they did an excellent job considering this was their first pro game,” said Faucette. “I was very surprised by their ability to control the game out there and their effort. They definitely had a presence out there.”
Women Take to the Ice
Once again, the referees won’t be the only women on the ice. Goaltender Shannon Szabados will be in net for Columbus. Szabados is 5-5 on the season with a 3.46 GAA and an .899 save percentage.
North America went 15 years without having a woman officiate a professional hockey game. We’ve now had two female-officated games in six weeks. Give the high caliber of female referees, let’s hope this trend continues.
Revisit our interview with Erin Blair and Katie Guay from back in November, prior to their SPHL debuts.