The sport of hockey is more than just an athletic activity to Canadians. More often than not, the rink is a safe haven for kids, a place of gathering for parents, and there is an overall sense of community.
While most are focused on the players on the ice, there is one integral role that is often overlooked. Without the referee, hockey would not be able to continue, and yet, small towns, big cities and everywhere in between are experiencing a shortage of referees.
Referee in Chief for Strathmore and the surrounding area, John Culshaw, explained that Strathmore is not left out of this shortage.
“We are especially short in the older divisions like U15 and U18. We tend to have lots of kids 14-17 years old but we have always been shorthanded 18+ older. At the moment we have approximately 35-40 kids that ref, 15 years of age and younger, and approx 20 that are 16 years of age and older, but because the majority of these folks are also playing, they have limited availability to ref games around playing their own.”
He continued to say that there are around 25-30 games each weekend that need to be officiated in Strathmore, Rockyford, Standard, Hussar, Gleichen and Bassano.
Many seem to believe that this shortage is due to the verbal abuse referees sometimes face during games. While Culshaw does not pretend that this does not happen, he thinks there is another reason for the shortage.
“I think it has more to do with the long layoff due to COVID 19. I think that a lot of people have either found other things to occupy their time or are waiting for it to be over before getting involved again.”
He continued to say that even the number of players in minor hockey has seen a decline in participation since the pandemic.
“There have been great strides made in the last number of years to address the “abuse of officials” by Hockey Alberta and our Central Region, so I would hate to blame this on that.”
Reffing has often been a great source of cash for younger players and many stick with it. Culshaw explained that you never know if someone is going to like reffing until they try it.
"It is also a good way for those who maybe aren’t playing hockey any longer to stay involved with the game on a different level. I think we may lose a few officials every year due to the stress and yelling that can occur from time to time," Culshaw continued. "We do have some kids who just find that it is not for them, and we lose some every year for that reason. I wish I had the magic cure for this, but honestly, until the kids register and certify for one season they sometimes just don’t know if they are going to enjoy it.”
Culshaw does encourage anyone who is interested in becoming a ref to give it a shot.