Shortage of hockey referees in Calgary raising concerns over safety and possible cancelled games

Minor hockey associations in Alberta are dealing with a referee shortage this year.

It has forced games in Calgary to go from three officials on the ice down to two and sometimes only one.

The executive director of Hockey Calgary says a couple of exhibition games had to be cancelled this year.

“We generally hope to get at least one official there so that the kids can play because after a year and a half away from the rink, they are eager to get playing and the last thing we want to do is cancel more games and stop kids from playing,” said Hockey Calgary executive director Kevin Kobelka.

Read more: B.C. minor hockey grappling with chronic referee shortage

Kobelka doesn’t recall a year with such a shortage. He attributes it in part to COVID-19, due to limited recruiting last year.

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“I don’t think it’s happened to this extent before. I think this is a real one-off phenomenon because of what we’ve gone through,” Kobelka said.

“It goes back to officials retiring and new ones not coming in and then even the health and safety risk, some officials might not feel comfortable working in that environment.”

According to Hockey Alberta, there are 1,364 referees in the central region system, but the problem is half of those officials are set to expire in the system because they are not certified.

Hockey Alberta has been busy recruiting and trying to recertify since late August, but classes that normally have over 30 in a class are down to five or six.

“Come the end of December, our numbers, that 1,364, is going to drop drastically, and we are going to be telling our stakeholders, meaning Hockey Calgary and other local minor hockey associations within our rural communities, ‘We have no officials. Sorry,’” said Dave Coles, Hockey Alberta central region referees’ committee co-ordinator.

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Coles is concerned about having only one referee on the ice and putting young officials in situations they might not be ready for.

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“Safety is a big thing out there because the official helps to control the game by penalizing players and putting them in the penalty box, but if we’re not able to identify the penalties because maybe we’re pushing them a little quick, maybe the hockey is a little fast for them, then we find ourselves into a safety issue,” Coles said.

For many young people, being a referee is their first job — a chance to keep fit, make some money and put valuable skills on their resume.

“They get an opportunity to learn some skills they can apply in the real world, problem solving, teamwork and communication,” said Colin Walker, Hockey Alberta central region grassroots co-ordinator.

Walker is also a referee in Calgary and said it’s been a rewarding experience.

“I love it. The way I look at it every time I go to the rink: I have an opportunity to hear a good story, be part of a community, get some fitness and get a bit of pay at the end of the day,” Walker said.

For the first time, Hockey Alberta will be running refereeing classes into December to hopefully get more referees in the rinks and avoid any disruptions in games.

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