There are not enough referees to run a smooth hockey season in Hay River, according to Larry Dragon, a long-time hockey official and referee instructor.
“We only have three guys with experience here,” he told The Hub. “We’re really in trouble and the rec league is really in trouble if more people don’t start signing up. If you start having to bring in officials for games, you’re looking at the $50 a game, plus their transportation, meals and other expenses. That gets pricey.”
Although close to 20 people had expressed interest in the refereeing clinic on Nov. 9, only eight showed up. The course covered material provided for officials by Hockey Canada, as well as instruction for on-ice situations.
“I’ve been officiating over 45 years and I don’t know the book by heart,” said Dragon. “And just because a person knows all the rules and gets 100 per cent on the test, it doesn’t mean they can apply them and make calls on the ice.”
All games played at the Don Stewart Recreation Centre require certified officials for insurance reasons, according to Dragon. While minor hockey players can be referees for age groups two levels younger than their own, there is still a lack of qualified candidates, especially for the adult recreational league.
“I don’t know what the rec league is going to do,” Dragon said. “There just aren’t enough refs for them. You really need two on the ice and, if they don’t want to be referees, they can be linesmen.”
But insurance concerns aren’t the only problem with not having enough officials in Hay River. Dragon said he heard multiple times at the last atom tournament that, although the calls being made were good ones, only having one ref really slowed down the games.
Shelley Maher runs the women’s Hazard Hockey League in Hay River and said she has a hard time finding officials for her league’s games, as well.
“It’s really too bad,” she said. “It drives me out of my mind. Refs can really make the game great, and we need them for games to happen. And $35 an hour isn’t a bad wage, either.”
Richard Johnson has been officiating in Hay River for three or four years and said the job can be a thankless one at the best of times, but only gets worse when refs are asked to work 10 games in a row during busy tournaments.
“You get burned out,” Johnson said. “But it’s really encouraging to see some of the kids coming out to learn about it.”
There were four minor hockey players in attendance at the Nov. 9 clinic and, while they cannot officiate for rec league games, they can help out with the younger ages.
Dragon said that, while he had been hoping for more new recruits, four is certainly nothing to scoff at.
“I wanted to learn more calls and I thought it was a really fun experience,” said Ceaira McKay, adding that both she and her friend Layne Leonard play.
“I wanted to know more about the calls because I don’t know a lot about them,” said Leonard. “And I think it’ll make me a better player, too.”
— Sarah Ladik