Officials selected for national championships

Much like players, officials use high profile events like the Esso Cup to showcase their skills

“Do you have velcro on your butt?”

As you can imagine, Lacey Senuk was a bit surprised by the question.

Senuk had just officiated a game at the 2011 Esso Cup in St. Albert, Alta when Wally Popik, then Hockey Alberta head judge, gave her invaluable if unconventional advice.

“He’s like, ‘You’re glued to the boards,'” says Senuk, laughing at the memory. “I stopped and thought, ‘You have a good point.’ Little position tips like these are great learning tools.”

Senuk officiated her second Esso Cup after entering Lines at the 2009 event in Calgary. Her name had been released by Hockey Alberta to process the events.

Hockey Canada relies on its provincial offices to monitor, evaluate and nominate officials for its national championships. When your name gets passed, you know you’ve done a good job.

“In a way, we give our blessing to industry nominations,” said Todd Anderson, senior manager of officiating for Hockey Canada.

In some cases, Esso Cup officials have previously worked at other high-profile events, including the Canadian Winter Games and the Women’s U18 National Championship. For others, including Senuk in 2009, the tournament serves as a stepping stone to more national appearances.

The 2008–09 season was Senuk’s first as an official. She grew up playing hockey in Grand Cache, Alta and joined the Notre Dame Hounds in Wilcox, Sask for four years before finally settling in St. Albert where she continued to play recreational hockey.

“I had friends who were referees who said I should try,” says Senuk. “I thought it was a way to give something back to the game.” That first year in office was also her last game. “I realized pretty quickly that I’d much rather (referee) than play.”

Now, Senuk, a safety consultant at an oil and gas company, skates up to five times a week, including several weekend games.

The Esso Cup 2009 was her first big event. “It helped me develop my game and I got wonderful feedback from the maintainer,” she says. It also put her on the national radar. At the national U18 women’s championship in 2009 and the 4-Nations-Pokal in 2010 she was on the program as a call-line player.

In 2011 she returned to the Esso Cup, her second event as a referee. “It gave me a little bit more intuition and feedback on what they were looking for nationally,” she says.

It also gave her the chance to referee the preliminary round game between the St. Albert Slash and the Notre Dame Hounds – her hometown team against her alma mater.

“I took a penalty because a St Albert player covered the puck in the goal area,” she recalls. The Slash coach plugged her in to check it out with her crew. “It’s like, ‘No, I was only three feet away and the call is what it is.’ I was like, ‘Holy shit, we’re actually going to do this.'”

An official’s performance is monitored by the event directors throughout the week. “Much like teams earn their places in the finals, officials compete within their groups for the opportunity to be nominated for the final,” says Anderson.

Senuk thought she had had a good week at St. Albert. She’d felt good about her calls, had some great feedback from officials, and had plenty of support from her hometown small hockey community. When her name wasn’t called in any of the semifinals, she assumed her tournament was over.

“Then I found out I got the gold [medal game]. Okay then,” she says, laughing. “My tournament is not over yet. I have one more game to skate on.”

“You’re part of a pretty elite group of championship officials,” Anderson says. “At the end of the day there is an internal competition among the judges to nominate one for the gold medal game.”

“Although everyone is fighting for the gold medal,” adds Senuk, “we don’t weigh each other down to take this step.” That camaraderie of helping others succeed is one of the things Senuk enjoys most about to be an official.

Over the past three years, Senuk has worked on another U18 Women’s National Championship, the Canadian Winter Games, the CIS National Championship, as well as IIHF events including an Olympic pre-qualifier event in China and an IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s Championship World Championship qualifier in Mexico.

The immediate future sees her skate camps this summer to further hone her skills. And thanks to the experience and notoriety she’s garnered from Esso Cup and other national duties, she’s hopeful her not-so-distant future will bring her ultimate goal: naming games at the IIHF Women’s World Championship.

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