Hockey ref situation nears crisis proportion

MANITOULIN—With the kids back to school and the days getting cooler, many families’ thoughts automatically turn to the upcoming hockey season, but local senior hockey official Jason Thibault is hoping Manitoulin hockey associations will also be mindful of the major shortfall in Island referees.

This is not the first time a plea for refs has been noted in the pages of this newspaper, but as Mr. Thibault says, “It’s looking a little more dismal this year.”

“We have a very, very strong need for senior officials on Manitoulin Island,” he added, noting that last year the Manitoulin Minor Hockey Association alone chalked up 400 games in Island rinks.

As of this fall, there are only six senior officials left on Manitoulin Island, nor is there anyone ready to take the next step in refereeing as the typically young men who oversee games in the winter have left for school, Mr. Thibault explained.

The senior official asked parents to think about getting involved in reffing, as they are the ones who are likely going to be committed with their various associations for the long haul. Those interested will have to take their level I and II accreditation before taking testing for level III, which will allow for officiating bantam and midget games. It is refs with a level III or higher that are in high demand.

“We need the associations to reach out to parents because if nobody steps up, I’ve got news for them, they’re going to get awfully sick of seeing Jason Thibault, Bob Dumont and Greg Lockeyer at every game,” he said. “Associations would save thousands of dollars if they recruited from within.” Hockey clubs pay the mileage for travelling refs as well as a fee for each game.

Mr. Thibault said the six refs try their best to accommodate each of the senior level games as they understand the hours of frustration that come with changing game times, harkening back to the moral of the story—more is better.

“There are none (senior officials) in Wikwemikong, none in Manitowaning and none in M’Chigeeng,” he said. “If we don’t start recruiting now, Manitoulin might become a playground league if there are no NOHA (Northern Ontario Hockey Association) refs, meaning teams cannot play in any Hockey Canada sanctioned events.”

To be a referee you have to be at least 14 years of age, have a clean criminal record, take the Hockey University online program then attend a referee clinic, the next of which will be held on Saturday, October 5 at the Little Current recreation centre. There are fees involved for both Hockey University and the clinic, which total less than $200. Mr. Thibault explained that he and the other officials would also provide on-ice mentoring for the new refs.

“There are no female officials either,” he continued. “We would really like to see more female officials as there is a really strong contingent of girls playing hockey on Manitoulin.”

Junior level refs are also needed to cover the between 250 and 300 junior novice and peewee games, he added. “And we will provide the mentoring to help them move up.”

For more information, or to express interesting in officiating, contact Mr. Thibault at district_7@hotmail.com. For those wishing to sign up for the referee clinic, visit www.noha-hockey.com.

Alicia McCutcheon