Islander wins NOHA Most Deserving Official award

Deborah Topash

NORTH BAY – A Haweater, who is more well known on Manitoulin for playing ringette rather than hockey, was recently awarded the Northern Ontario Hockey Association (NOHA)’s Most Deserving Official recognition.

Deborah (McLeod) Topash received the prestigious award recently. “I am originally from Manitoulin, my parents were Jim and Maxine McLeod of Ice Lake,” she said when contacted by the Recorder this past Saturday at her home in North Bay. “I was born and raised on the Island and lived on the Island until I turned 17, when I went to college in Sault Ste. Marie.”

“I didn’t start playing hockey until I was in my mid-20s,” Ms. Topash told the Recorder. When she was growing up, “girls didn’t play hockey, we played ringette, and I played for three years on a pretty dominant team that was coached by Sandy McDougall and Rick Rusk and had great teammates like Connie and Bonnie Chatwell and Denise Purvis.”

She got into officiating to give back to the game of hockey and encourage young players that they can succeed in hockey while participating in other avenues. Ms. Topash has been a hockey official, coach and trainer over the years.

“I didn’t start officiating in hockey until I turned 40,” said Ms. Topash. “I was at the end of my playing days, no longer being capable of playing to the level I wanted, so I turned to officiating for love of the game.”

“I still referee today,” said Ms. Topash, who started officiating in 2010. “I think I will stay for one more year and then retire. When I started, I said I would officiate for 10 years and that would be it.”

Ms. Topash has officiated nine years with the NOHA and six years with the Ontario Women’s Hockey Association (OWHA). She is a referree in the NOHA District No. 5 (North Bay and area), having started in 2010, officiating minor hockey (atom-midget house league and rep); selected and completed the Level 3 certification in 2014; and selected to official the 2019 OHF Atom AA championships in North Bay.

In the OWHA she officiated from 2013-2018 and was selected as an Elite Official in 2013. In 2013 she was selected to officiate OUA (Ontario University Athletics-Women’s), Provincial Women’s Hockey League-Intermediate AA) as well as skated a couple of Team China women’s games in Toronto (travelling to different arenas across southern Ontario on a regular basis) and officiated the very first Nipissing Lady Lakers game in North Bay in 2013.

She officiated several years ago at the OWHA provincial championships held in Ottawa and Toronto (selected to skate a Bantam BB Gold Medal game “during my first attendance in 2013, I took a slap shot to the chin during a face off in 2015 while lining a AA game; spent three and a half hours at the hospital in Etobicoke. I received five stitches and butterflies to close up the gash and was back on the ice to stake my remaining assignments for the weekend.”

Ms. Topash was appointed an NOHA supervisor in 2016. And in 2015, she was selected as the assigner of officials in 2015 for NOHA District No. 5-North Bay and area and assists other assigners to ensure that all games have officials scheduled. She was elected as vice-president of North Bay and Area Referees’ Association in 2019, and remains in this position today.

She began coaching and training in 2011 in the North Bay and Almaguin hockey associations, including the 2014 OWHA Ontario Winter Games in Huntsville (being part of the bench staff of Team White (Wakefield) who won silver medals.

“I was nominated for the (most deserving hockey official) award by Glen Campbell, NOHA director of officials and temporary referee in chief in district No. 5,” said Ms. Topash. She pointed out she is “the first female to win the award since it was established in 1993.”

“Can you also please include a congratulations to Gabe Hare of M’Chigeeng on winning the NOHA Keith Barton Memorial Award for Most Promising Official. Wishing him all the best with his future officiating endeavours. The future and success of this game depends on these young and upcoming officials,” said Ms. Topash.

“My parents always taught me to work hard and do the best of my abilities, as it is a reflection of the person that I am, not of the praise or attention but rather for the satisfaction of knowing that I’m making a difference,” Ms. Topash told the Recorder. “Unfortunately they aren’t here to witness this accomplishment and what they have instilled in me.”