In a time of several fantastic firsts, the autumn solstice has propelled Kirsten Welsh into a position of prominence. The Blackstock, Ontario native, Welsh enjoyed the opportunity to achieve numerous milestones. Officiating games in the American Hockey League (AHL), NCAA Division I, the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) plus the Premier Hockey Federation (PHF), the dates of November 12 and 13 firmly entrenched her into the sporting conversation.
Becoming the first woman to officiate regular season contests in both the AHL and OHL, Welsh’s weekend began at the Kitchener Memorial Auditorium; the Rangers hosted the Owen Sound Attack. The Friday night affair saw a total of four 10-minute misconducts called within the final four minutes.
Heading eastwards the following day, the Belleville Senators hosted the visiting Bridgeport Islanders at CAA Arena. With a 3-1 victory in favor of Belleville, the fans on-hand witnessed a historic chapter in a groundbreaking 2021-22 AHL season, Welsh one of 10 tremendous women serving as officials during said season.
Prior to the unforgettable November assignments, Welsh’s path towards history began in the OHL’s preseason. Mississauga’s Paramount Fine Foods Centre saw Welsh debut on OHL ice, as a September 30 exhibition consisting of the Steelheads versus the Guelph Storm served as an empowering backdrop, the revelation of the assignment was one that provided Welsh with elated feelings of fulfillment, able to be part of a profound statement about sporting equality, embodying encouragement, and opportunity.
“I was blown away! It was a huge accomplishment for both me and the hockey community within Ontario, and I feel so fortunate to be the individual who had been chosen to represent first lineswomen in OHL history. Making huge steps in the right direction for the future of generations of little girls who are officiating, to know that this can be an achievable goal.”
Following it up with a preseason exhibition on October 1 between the Oshawa Generals and Windsor Spitfires, there was a strong sense of homecoming for Welsh. With the city of Oshawa located in Durham Region, 25 minutes north of her hometown, she spent three PWHL seasons playing for a Region-based team.
Appearing in more than 135 games with the Whitby Wolves, Welsh also served as alternate captain in her final season (2014-15). As the Generals game at Tribute Communities Centre allowed for friends and family to show their support, a team that Welsh also watched in her youth, there was a strong feeling of fulfillment.
“Super excited, I was nervous, but mostly just ready to do my best out there and show people that women can skate this level of hockey. I was eager to get tips/advice from my supervisors because I want learn and get better each time I step on the ice.
Yes! A couple of my friends came down and got tickets to watch. My entire family was there too! It was so cool to skate in the place where I went to watch the Oshawa Generals play growing up.”
Possessing a sterling hockey resume, which also includes a brilliant four-year career playing NCAA hockey with the Robert Morris University Colonials, Welsh also served as team captain in her senior season. Graduating as the program’s all-time leading scorer among blueliners, Welsh successfully transitioned into officiating.
In attendance for the 2019 NHL Exposure Combine, Welsh earned the chance to officiate the Buffalo Sabres NHL Prospect Camp. Serving as prologue, Welsh returned to NHL ice alongside peers Kelly Cooke, Katie Guay and Kendall Hanley, working the Elite 3-on-3 Women’s Exhibition Game at the Enterprise Centre in St. Louis, part of the NHL 2020 All-Star weekend.
As this season promises more assignments in AHL and OHL play, Welsh is also expected to don the zebra stripes for East Coast Hockey League contests. Having also gained experience with the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Hockey League and Pittsburgh Amateur Hockey League, her reflections on the OHL experiences embody more than an appreciation for the game. Looking towards tomorrow, the pioneering Welsh aspires for a brighter future, graciously hoping to build the foundation for greater opportunities,
“The opportunity to skate in those games was truly an incredible experience that I will never forget. It means the world to me because the most important thing here is giving back to the game that gave so much to me.
Being able to be a resource for women who come after me to get to this level and show the hockey world this is a possibility, is bigger than anything I could have ever imagined. I am apart of something bigger than myself, and I just want to be there to help the next women coming up the ranks.”