It’s a role many fans love to jeer, but as Erin Zach likes to remind us,
“Without officials, there would be no games.”
The former player is embarking on a new career and wants to do her part in
growing the game.
“I wanted to be on the ice skating and I felt it was important to grow the
not only the playing side of women’s hockey, but also the officiating
side,” said Zach. “Officiating felt like it was the best way for me to stay
in the game and show there are other avenues to be a part of the game.”
The 27-year-old decided to retire from playing after the 2016-17 season to
focus on her officiating career.
“I had sustained quite a few injuries and concussions over my playing
career, and I felt like it was just time to make the smart decision to
switch to officiating,” she explained. “It allowed me to make my own
decision to retire, rather than being forced to.”
Zach is making her debut on the national stage at the Esso Cup and is
excited the opportunity is in her home province.
“I’ve had the experience of playing in a national championship tournament
while at school. It will be amazing to experience another one from a
different perspective,” she said.
Zach, from Elmira, Ont., grew up playing minor hockey about 20 minutes
south in Kitchener and played at various levels of the game.
She began her career with the Cambridge Fury (now Rivulettes) of the
Provincial Women’s Hockey League, where she played three seasons. She spent
four years at the Rochester Institute of Technology, where she won an NCAA
Division III championship in 2012. While at RIT, the team made the jump to
Division I in her senior year and won the College Hockey America title.
“In that [championship] game, I scored my last goal of my college career. I
will never forget that moment,” Zach said.
After graduation, she made the Buffalo Beauts roster in their inaugural
season in the National Women’s Hockey League, and played one season with
the Toronto Furies of the now-defunct Canadian Women’s Hockey League before
“Being able to share the ice with Meghan Duggan, Megan Bozak, Natalie
Spooner and Sami Jo Small is the biggest accomplishment of my playing
career,” said Zach.
Coaching is a common next-step for many retired players, but officiating
seemed like a natural fit for Zach.
She started as a timekeeper for Waterloo Minor Hockey when she was 10 years
old and began officiating minor hockey in 2007. She took a break when she
went to university, but when she moved back home in 2014 she pulled on the
stripes again and hasn’t looked back.
“I did not enjoy coaching. I wanted to be on the ice and I wanted to stay
in the game,” said Zach.
In her new role, Zach feels she must shoulder some of the responsibility of
keeping former players involved.
“The young girls look up to us and they want to be just like us,” she said.
“If they see ex-professional players staying in the game once they retire,
it shows them there are so many places hockey can take you.”
As a former player, Zach has been on both sides of a crowd. She was a
playmaker that would generate excitement from the crowd. But, as an
official, she has also heard the calls from players and fans, alike.
“We take a lot of heat on the ice, and in reality, it takes a lot of
self-control and discipline to stay cool and calm in stressful situations,”
she said. “Officiating is not an easy part of the game. It requires
practice, just like playing does. It can be just as rewarding as playing.
Without officials, there would be no games.”