The landscape of high-performance hockey officials has historically been
dominated by men, but a number of elite women in Northern Ontario are
breaking the mould and proving they can find success in high-performance
leagues all over Ontario.
In the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League (NOJHL), there has been an
increase of women in stripes in the last few years, and that trend looks to
be continuing. The NOHA had the chance to speak with two of its phenomenal
officials, Brandy Dewar-Beecroft of Sault Ste. Marie and Joelle Ouellette
of Sudbury, to discuss what officiating means for them as they break
through the barriers of working junior hockey.
Brandy grew up playing minor hockey in Sault Ste. Marie, and began
officiating as a way to earn some extra money. She soon grew to love being
on the lines, and continued working her way up the ladder as she attended
Brock University. Brandy found the key to making the transition from player
to referee was learning what situations like icings looked like from
different perspectives on the ice—and learning the rulebook inside and out.
Joelle’s first hockey coach was her father, and she also transitioned to
officiating out of playing minor hockey in Sudbury. The Sudbury officiating
community immediately took Joelle under its wing, and she felt like she
gained a new family who were always there to help with questions or guide
her in the right direction. Joelle soon found herself on the lines for AAA
games, and was invited to the NOHA Development Weekend in 2017.
Both officials credit hard work and dedication to their success. Brandy
carries an impressive résumé with multiple IIHF Women’s World Championship
games under her belt, with her standout game being the CWHL Clarkson Cup
final in 2014. She highlights this game as the one that showed her that she
was on the right track, and gave her the confidence and motivation to keep
working hard toward her officiating goals. Recently, she was selected to
referee the 2021 IIHF Women’s World Championship (Division 1 Group A) in
Angers, France, which was cancelled due to COVID-19, and the 2022 IIHF U18
Women’s World Championship in Linköping and Mjölby, Sweden, which she
respectfully declined as she welcomed a new baby. This year, Brandy is back
for her first season with the NOJHL.
Joelle is still working her way through the ranks, but she’s already making
a name for herself, and in 2018 was invited to the NHL Exposure Combine.
She admits size can be a challenge sometimes for women at the
high-performance levels of men’s hockey, but following procedures and being
well-trained ensures everyone’s safety. She’s working toward her Level 4
certification, and has her eyes on the Olympic Games in the future.
Both Brandy and Joelle had a lot to say about their hockey families—the
fellow officials, supervisors, schedulers and mentors who have helped them
along the way, and the hard work and sacrifices often needed to work up to
the higher levels. In some leagues, there still isn’t mileage available, so
to skate in those levels, officials are often losing some of their game fee
just to be there. It’s also difficult to watch men moving up the ranks
faster, but both Brandy and Joelle are confident that there are
opportunities for women in the officiating world, and there are supporters
out there watching and ready to help bring more women onto the lines,
including NOJHL commissioner Robert Mazzuca.
Last season, the NOJHL welcomed Hillary Brennan to the league as its first
woman to officiate a game. Hillary is currently officiating in her hometown
of London, Ont.
“The continued success earned by Brandy, Joelle and Hillary is a testament
to their dedication to the game,” Mazzuca says. “Their efforts and
skill-set rightfully earned them the opportunity to officiate in the
Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League.”
The successes of officials like Brandy, Joelle and Hillary have shown that
hard work and dedication are paramount, and that the opportunities and
support within the officiating community are growing. There is still work
to be done to make sure the path is clear for women, and that the systems
of high-performance hockey are doing as much as possible to encourage young
women to grow into the next wave of high-performance officials, but it's
clear that the trailblazers are already here, and they’re paving the way
for the next generation.