The American Hockey League will have eleven women in stripes for the 2022-23 season, up from ten in 2021-22.
Canadian referees Cianna Lieffers and Hillary Brennan are joining the AHL for the upcoming season.
Referee Cianna Lieffers
Lieffers, 27, comes to the league with plenty to top-level women’s hockey experience. She recently officiated the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, along with the IIHF Women’s World Championships in 2021 and 2022.
Lieffers also took part in the NHL’s Officiating Exposure Combine in 2022, which looks to identify and develop high potential officials – as well as introduce officiating to former high-level players.
The Saskatchewan native, now in her 11th year in stripes, works predominantly in her home province, covering U Sports, the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League, Prairie Junior Hockey League, and both men’s and women’s AAA. She spoke with the CBC about what she’s learned in her officiating career.
“You just develop a tough skin [as an official]. Learning how to manage [the abuse from coaches and fans] is a big thing and one of the strides I’ve made,” said Lieffers. “There are so many opportunities for females, nationally and internationally, and you just have to keep working for them.”
More on Lieffers from the National Post:
Lieffers jumped into a man’s world when she started blowing whistles in leagues like the SJHL. Female officials were a rare sight; she remembers showing up at the players and officials entrance, and being told to go around to the front with the rest of the ticket-buying public.
“There was always that shock,” she says. “Sometimes I’ll still get that from the odd fan; they’ll see me warming up, and they’ll give me some sideways looks or ask me what I’m doing, and I’ll explain I’m the ref. But it’s a lot more normalized now.”
And she’s an old hand at dealing with those tough, often caustic situations that hockey officials grapple with regularly.
“It took work,” she says. “When I first started my officiating career, I took a lot more things to heart. There was a lot more times after games when I would come home, upset and thinking about a negative interaction that happened on the ice. I found myself not being able to push past it and move on to the next game. It didn’t come easy.
“But I started to take those situations and look at them, and say ‘okay, how can I learn from this? How can I make myself better? What can I do next time to either avoid the situation altogether, or to communicate better? What can I do on my end to resolve this conflict, so I’m not coming home feeling down about a game?’ That’s really helped. Conflict resolution and communication is a big part of my game. I’m always willing to have that conversation, and it shows on the ice.”
Referee Hillary Brennan
Brennan, 23, will be working in the AHL and Ontario Hockey League (OHL) this season. She has officiated in the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League (NOJHL) as well as men’s U18 AAA hockey.
OHL Director of Officiating Conrad Haché called Brennan an “officiating prospect with a lot of promise.”
A big congratulations to referee Hillary Brennan and linesperson Marlowe Schott, who became the first women in #OHL history to work on the same officiating team Saturday night in Guelph 👏 pic.twitter.com/7W5WqLHnud
— OntarioHockeyLeague (@OHLHockey) September 4, 2022
Lieffers and Brennan will be among eleven women working in the AHL this season, skating alongside refs Kelly Cooke, Katie Guay, Samantha Hiller, Jacqueline Zee Howard, Elizabeth Mantha, Amanda Tassoni, and Laura White, along with linespersons Alexandra Clarkeand Kirsten Welsh.
Linesperson Kendall Hanley, who officiated in the AHL in 2021-22, has left the ice to move upstairs; she’s been named the Manager of Officiating for the North American Hockey League (NAHL).
The NBA has added two female officials to bring their active total to eight women for the 2022-23 season. The NFL has three. It’s great to see the AHL supporting women officials. Here’s hoping it won’t be long until they break into the NHL.
Congratulations to Cianna Lieffers and all the AHL referees and linespersons on the upcoming season.