To get inside the head of a hockey official as a player, it helps if the player, herself, is a hockey official.
“I know what to do and what not to do. I know where the officials are looking,” says Elizabeth Mantha, who when not manning the blue-line for the Université de Montréal Carabins is calling lines in rinks across Quebec.
This week finds her missing her game in favour of crossing the country to Kamloops, B.C., and calling those at the 2014 4 Nations Cup. Four short years after picking up a whistle, the Longueuil, Que., native will work her first international tournament and her second major event in the past 12 months.
Last November she called lines – including the gold medal game – at the 2013 National Women’s Under-18 Championship, an event she won a silver medal at as player (with teammate Marie-Philip Poulin) in 2007.
Initially an offense-minded ringette player, Mantha, 24, turned to hockey – and defence – when she was 10. Secondary school saw her enrolled in a sport-études (sports and studies) program, where her coach was France St-Louis.
“She really taught us the good things of hockey and she gave me the passion for hockey,” Mantha says about the 2014 Order of Hockey in Canada recipient (and 1996 3 Nations Cup gold medallist).
As a player, Mantha has gone on to claim honours both on her own – being named to the CIS Championship All-Star team in 2012 – and as part of a team – capturing the CIS championship the following year with the Carabins.
And as an official, Mantha knows who she can thank for doubling her weekly on-ice time.
“I started reffing mostly because of my boyfriend, who also refs,” she says. “He gave me the passion for reffing.”
In a typical week, Mantha will attend three or four practices, play one or two games and officiate three to five more. Gym time, not to mention study time (she’s majoring in international relations; minoring in law), must also be worked in.
Having now worked both sides of the line, Mantha the player must have some empathy for the officials doing their jobs, right?
“I never challenge a call,” she starts.
On second thought…
“Well, sometimes, yes, with emotions on the ice, I do challenge a bit, but I really understand their job now,” she says. “I’ll say to other girls on the team, ‘relax, it’s tough and sometimes it happens that it’s not your game. The next game is going to be better.’”
Her teammates already know they have a valuable resource in their dressing room.
“They say it’s practical to have an official on the team so they can ask (about rules),” says Mantha.
And they no doubt have a well-conditioned one as well. Officiating allows for far fewer water breaks than playing. “It’s 60 minutes all the way and you’re always on the ice,” says Mantha. “When you’re a player it’s 45-second shifts.”
Perhaps the only downside to seeing things from the other side is she now finds herself watching games differently as a fan.
“I always look at the missed calls,” she says, laughing. “I can’t even look at a game without looking at the officials.”
Mantha, who calls both men’s and women’s games, settled into her second role after receiving some valuable advice from some seasoned colleagues. “I used to stress with games sometimes,” she says. “(I was told) to relax and not stress with the situation. If you missed a call, say you missed it and say you won’t do it again.”
Hockey is a quick game and you have to be ready to adjust, she says. She speaks from recent experience. A change to the CWHL rule book put Mantha in the hot seat in the season opener between the Montreal Stars and Boston Blades.
“The first call I made was on the hybrid icing, only I didn’t (make the call),” she says. “I had some players question that and I was like, ‘oops, sorry I won’t do it again.’”
Mantha will see some of those same players at the 4 Nations Cup. She was thrilled to get the call to be one of the five linesmen working the event.
“I was really excited because it’s a big step for me,” she says.
In January, Mantha will represent Canada at the FISU (International University Sports Federation) Games, a worldwide competition for student-athletes. It’s a big experience for her, especially because she anticipates one part of her life is winding down.
“I think it will be my last year as a hockey player,” she says, “because I want to go and focus on officiating and get to a higher level there.”