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Hockey official shortage has potential to impact games

It takes a team effort to recruit and retain hockey officials fo small-town arenas.

UNITY — It’s not a problem just experienced in small-town Saskatchewan. A shortage of referees and linesmen is putting the pinch on grassroots hockey organizations.

Retention is a big part of the shortage with varying reasons attributed to the shortage of officials across the province. Lack of respect for officials and referee backlash from parents and fans both contribute to young hockey officials not being eager to return to the ice.

Unity Minor Hockey referee co-ordinator Scott Gilbert says the search is on for more hockey officials to come on board.

“We are losing approximately three to four intermediate officials as they have graduated high school and moved on. We can only hope that a couple of them recertify and can work a few games when they are home on the weekends,” says Gilbert.

Twenty-year referee veteran Todd Graham has retired leaving another void in the Unity and surrounding area official pool.

“Last season we had 12 junior officials, five intermediate officials and four senior officials in Unity,” Gilbert says.

He acknowledges that UMH’s referee shortage is always with senior officials as they only have a few people who work the U15 and U18 divisions.

UMH will be hosting a referee clinic Nov. 5, and interested persons can contact Gilbert for details by calling 306-228-7155. Classroom sessions run at UCHS from 9 a.m. to noon with the ice session following from 1:30-3:30 p.m.

“We are always tight for officials, lots of really young ones,” Dallas Cairns, spokesperson for Luseland Minor Hockey adds/

“The older age groups struggle  We are getting some for sure, but it is hard to keep them going. We are working on it.”

People admit that abuse towards hockey officials was tolerated at every level, and they are working with youth sports organizations to change this. Suggestions for retention include an official appreciation event during minor hockey week or ensuring the referees and linesmen are feeling appreciated for their work.

Hockey Canada has since taken steps to protect officials by adding a new rule in the books as of 2022 allowing officials to penalize or eject players and coaches or dismiss spectators from games in the case of inappropriate or abusive behaviour.

The other side of the puck includes parents and fans being more respectful of on-ice officials and recognizing their value in the games being played. Minor hockey associations across the province are also working towards changing the narrative around hockey fans supporting officials as opposed to chastising them.

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