Break Up the Boy’s Club: Women Officiating in NHL

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Break Up the Boy’s Club: Women Officiating in NHL

Trailblazers are those who take the harder path and create trails for others to follow through difficult terrain when the journey to the destination seems impossible. Paul Stewart is just that! A visionary and a major supporter of diversity in hockey, he’s let the world know that has a very big goal for the next phase of his impressive hockey career. The legacy he wants to leave behind is getting women ahead, and help them follow in his footsteps and officiate in the NHL.

Last month, Stewart was inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame and took the opportunity while having the media’s attention to announce that Katie Guay a female hockey referee, will be ref’ing the Beanpot tournament in Boston that takes place next month. Stewart himself has refereed 1,010 NHL regular-season games, 49 Stanley Cup playoff games and two NHL All-Star Games, all throughout which he never wore a helmet. He was happy to say he helped Guay along the way to get to where she is and on the verge of breaking the gender-based barrier professional sports have put up.

Guay reff’d in the Southern Professional Hockey League. And they have set the standard when it comes to advancing women in hockey.  One team in particular, Columbus Cottonmouths that’s also owned by a woman, Ms. Wanda Amos, was the first SPHL team to put a female player on their roster. Last season, goalie Shannon Szabados put on the pads for the team.  This past November, the team also hosted the first female officials in the SPHL in honour of their annual Hockey and Heels/Girl Scout Night.

Guay at the moment officiates women’s college hockey full-time in Hockey East and the ECAC leagues.  Aborad, she did the 2014 IIHF Under-18 World Championship. And she was selected to referee the 2015 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship that was held in Malmo, Sweden.

“I want to see someone break that glass ceiling,” Stewart said to media on his induction day. “It doesn’t take an X or Y chromosome to put your arm in the air and call a penalty. It only takes brains and guts. And that’s it. My next goal is to have lots of great women officiating.”

Stewart logged minutes in both the World Hockey Association and the National Hockey League. He even played alongside Mark Messier with the Cincinnati Stingers. But his last season of pro hockey was almost 4 decades ago, in the 1979–80 season with the then-existing Quebec Nordiques.

Right after he made the move from player to referee and has had a fruitful and long career in the NHL. He officiated 1,010 regular season games, 49 playoff games, the 1987 Canada Cup, the 1991 Canada Cup and two All-Star games. He never wore a helmet in his officiating career.

Paul Stewart wants women officiating in NHL

Stewart was inducted alongside David Poile, GM of the NHL’s Nashville Predators, three-time Olympic medalist and U.S. national team captain Natalie Darwitz, and former Michigan coach Red Berenson.

Darwitz, is coaching Division III Hockey in St. Paul, Minnesota, and believes that women could become officials in the NHL. Admitting that she probably couldn’t skate as fast or shoot a puck like a man she’s sure women could be referees and keep up with the pace if the game. She noted Guay and Kristine Langley as current men’s league referees currently working at the D-III level.

“If you know the game well enough, that’s certainly a huge possibility that could happen in the future,” Darwitz told media. “And I would love to see that.”

What’s encouraging is that this past August five women took part in the NHL’s officiating combine that took place in Buffalo, which is one more than the year before. Stephen Walkom, who’s the current director of officiating for the NHL, was quoted that the league is very open to anyone testing, despite gender or sex, and that anyone who qualifies may participate at the combine. What’s positive is that more and more girls and women are playing hockey every year, so the future looks bright for the league to bring in their first female or trans-woman referee.

The NHL says its looking for officials from both sexes and what’s must important is that they need be an exceptional skater to keep up with the break-neck pace of the NHL. The league’s commissioner Gary Bettman, agreed and told media that being as qualified as other candidates is the goal.

“I don’t view any limitations in our ability to continue to attract knowledgeable, smart, hard-working professionals, whether they’re male or female,” Bettman said.

So, Stewart and the NHL have come a long way by just having the conversation and opening the door to women referee. Being emotional and opening up about his feelings, was just one more way that Stewart pushed against gender stereotypes. While speaking about being inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame, Stewart had tears running down his face. He said it felt like he’d had an onion up to his face all day.

“You’ve seen a side of me not a lot of players ever saw,” Stewart said. “I used to make them cry.”  As painful as this change may be for some ‘hockey purists’, it’s time to let the floodgates open and welcome women in.

Congratulations Paul!



A crazy hockey fan who was tired of all the hegemonic and male-centric views being proliferated in sports news, with almost no media outlets offering an alternative or queer perspective, I decided it was time to prove my love for hockey. So I created a site that was inclusive, and made a space for all voices, where hockey fans despite their background or identity, could enjoy the majestic sport freely, without bias or judgment. And get in a bet or two...

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