Over the years, the NHL has seen a number of individuals break barriers, whether it be the legendary Willie O’Ree break the NHL’s color barrier, Wayne Gretzky shatter what was once thought to be unbreakable records, or players from non-traditional hockey countries being drafted by NHL teams and making their debuts. Now, four women will break another barrier at the league’s Prospect tournament, becoming the first female officials to referee an NHL event.
Earlier today, the NHL announced that lineswomen Kendall Hanley and Kirsten Welsh and referees Katie Guay and Kelly Cooke will be four of the 30 officials working the league’s Prospect Tournament (which the Capitals’ prospects will be partaking in). The four ladies have extensive experience in officiating, and were selected from some 96 officials that participated in the NHL Exposure Combine, which is in essence, an official’s version of the Scouting Combine.
Cooke holds 10 years of officiating experience, including for the International Ice Hockey Federation and National Collegiate Athletics Association Division 1 schools (including the NCAA Women’s Frozen Four tournament). She was a former standout player for Princeton from 2009-13.
Guay, meanwhile, holds an extensive 14 years of officiating experience, including the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in Pyeonchang. Like Cooke, Guay has officiated NCAA games, including men’s as well as women’s, and played with Brown University from 2001-05, and has competed on an international level for the United States as well.
Hanley holds 12 years of officiating experience, including events for the IIHF, NCAA, and the National Women’s Hockey League (NWHL), and competed in Division III hockey for Elmira University from 2005-07 and SUNY Oswega from 2007-09 during the completion of her degree.
Unlike her three colleagues, who hold a combined 36 years of officiating experience between them, Welsh will be seeing her first officiating action in major game action at the tournament, although she has experience as a player at Robert Morris University.
In the six years Exposure Combine participants have been officiating the Prospect Showcase, the tournament has proven to be a valuable tool for the league in developing officials for NHL action. NHL Senior Vice President and Director of Officiating (and former NHL official) Stephen Walkom released a statement on the four ladies’ opportunity:
“The opportunity to officiate at an NHL Rookie tournament is an important step in the development of the next generation of elite officials and we look forward to watching all four women elevate their performance in this new competitive environment”.
The Prospect Tournament will run from today (Friday) through Monday.
By Michael Fleetwood