Women will once again be wearing the stripes at NHL Prospect Tournaments.
Linespersons Kirsten Welsh, Alexandra Clarke, and Grace Barlow will be taking the ice this weekend on different sides of the continent.
Neither Welsh nor Clarke are unfamiliar with high-level play. Both took part in this year’s NHL Officiating Exposure Combine, and both were among the group of 10 women who became the first to officiate in the American Hockey League last season. They also both handle the lines in the Canadian Hockey League, with Welsh suiting up in the OHL and Clarke out west in the WHL.
Welsh, who handled last year’s Buffalo Sabres Prospects Challenge, will be heading to North Carolina for the 2022 NHL Prospects Showcase. The event features players from the Carolina Hurricanes, Florida Panthers, Nashville Predators, and Tampa Bay Lightning.
“It’s just incredible to have the opportunities that have come up from [the NHL Exposure Combine],” said Welsh. “It’s just been a very quick rise and obviously I wouldn’t have gotten there without the help that I’ve had along the way.”
Clarke, the first female to officiate in the Western Hockey League, will be working the 2022 Young Stars Classic in Penticton, British Columbia. The Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers, Vancouver Canucks, and Winnipeg Jets will be represented at the tournament.
“I think it just reaffirms all the work we’ve been putting in behind the scenes for so many years, finally coming to fruition in these opportunities that we’re having,” Clarke said, per NHL.com. “We have been working really hard to get to these levels for so many years … and now it’s finally working out. Women are having their opportunities, and I think we’re succeeding when we get those opportunities.”
The Saskatchewan native has certainly had some wonderful experiences both in North America and abroad, having also recently officiated at the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics.
Clarke will be joined in Penticton by referee Grace Barlow, who was part of the first all-female officiating crew in Canadian Junior A history. She worked a game in the British Columbia Hockey League (BCHL) alongside referee Megan Howes and linespersons Melissa Brunn and Colleen Geddes.
“My goal is to get into the IIHF and hopefully one day I can get to the Olympics,” she told the Prince George Citizen. “It’s a really long shot but it’s something I always wanted to do as a player and now knowing that dream is not going to become a reality I think it’s a good opportunity for me to get there as a referee and give back to the game.”
Barlow was also named British Columbia’s top officials for the 20212-22 season.
“It’s exciting,” said Al Kimmel, the NHL’s Director of Officiating Scouting and Development. “The first stage was giving them opportunity. … [General managers and coaches] were initially hesitant for Kirsten and Alexandra about the physicality of altercations, but both Alexandra and Kirsten have no fear about it. They’re both aggressive, not timid at all. And both can handle themselves in physical combat of the game. Once everybody sees that, they’re accepted, by the players and the coaches and the managers.”
“The barriers have been broken and there’ll be more and more opportunity, I think, each year. The greater their abilities increase, at some point in the future I’m sure we will see female officials working at the [NHL] level.”
It’s only a matter of time.