Four women officials will experience NHL action for the first time this weekend.
Referees Katie Guay and Kelly Cooke and linesmen Kirsten Welsh and Kendall Hanley, four of the 96 officials who participated in the 2019 NHL Exposure Combine, have been selected to officiate rookie tournaments in Irvine, California; Buffalo; Nashville and Traverse City, Michigan. A total of 30 officials from the combine were selected to work the rookie tournaments.
The Exposure Combine, held in Buffalo during the last weekend in August, can best be described as a scouting combine for prospective officials. It is also a crucial stepping stone in the journey for many officials landing a job in professional hockey whether it be at the American Hockey League or ECHL level or in North American junior hockey leagues.
"The opportunity to officiate at an NHL Rookie tournament is an important step in the development of the next generation of elite officials and we look forward to watching all four women elevate their performance in this new competitive environment," NHL senior vice president and director of officiating Stephen Walkom said.
Guay has officiated for 14 years, including at the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics. The 37-year-old officiates men's and women's NCAA Division I hockey, was part of the first all-female officiating crew at the 2019 Women's Frozen Four and was the first woman to officiate the men's Beanpot Championship in 2019. She played Division I hockey for Brown University from 2001-05 and has competed for USA Hockey's National Under-22 Team.
"When my playing days came to an end, I missed being at the rink and officiating was a great way to stay on the ice and be back in the game," said Guay, who will work the Rookie Faceoff in Irvine from Saturday through Tuesday.
Cooke is a licensed referee for the IIHF and NCAA (Division I) and has officiated for 10 years. She was also part of first all-female officiating crew at the 2019 NCAA Women's Frozen Four. The 29-year-old played Division I hockey for Princeton from 2009-13. She was a four-year ECAC All-Academic Team selection, was selected as Princeton's captain and named team MVP in 2012-13.
She will officiate at the Nashville Prospects Showcase, which runs from Saturday to Tuesday.
"Once I was done playing competitively, I knew that I wanted to stay involved in the game," Cooke said. "Officiating was the perfect way to both keep skating at a high level and challenge myself in a completely new way."
For Welsh, the Exposure Combine was her first introduction to officiating. She played Division I hockey for Robert Morris University from 2015-19 and was captain during her senior season. The 22-year-old was a two-time All-College Hockey America First-Team selection and CHA Defender of the Year in 2017-18. She helped Robert Morris win three regular-season CHA titles.
"I love the game and want to use my experience and knowledge to be one of the first females to officiate in the NHL to open up the path for the future of females officiating," said Welsh, who will work the Buffalo Sabres Prospect Challenge, which runs Friday through Monday.
Hanley is entering her 12th season of officiating and is a licensed linesman with the IIHF, NCAA women's hockey (Divisions I and III) and the National Women's Hockey League. She is also entering her fourth season as a linesman in USA Hockey's Officiating Development Program, where she has officiated in the USHL, NAHL and NA3HL junior hockey leagues. The 35-year-old played Division III varsity hockey for Elmira College from 2005-07 and SUNY Oswego from 2007-09 while completing her Bachelor of Science in zoology.
"My passion and love for the game started at a young age and after college I was not quite ready to hang up my skates," said Hanley, who will officiate at the 2019 NHL Prospect Tournament, which runs Friday through Monday in Traverse City." I met some amazing people in Texas who were very involved in officiating who supported and mentored me early on. Officiating provides a team environment, great comradery and competition and helps me give back and support the game I love."
This is the sixth year Exposure Combine participants have been officiating at the rookie tournaments, and 85 percent of the officials at the five rookie tournaments have attended an NHL Exposure Combine.
The fast-paced environment at the rookie tournaments has proved to be a valuable step in developing the next generation of officials as well as accelerating the transition to a high level of officiating of a few elite hockey players.