While the inaugural CWHL All-Star Game represented a watershed moment in league history, it was not just the players, coaches and fans that came away with a special experience. Often unrecognized but essential to the game, the referees who graced the ice at Air Canada Centre were just as proud and ecstatic to be part of women’s hockey history.
As one of the most accomplished female referees in the province of Ontario, Vanessa Stratton was bestowed the honor of officiating duties. Working alongside fellow officials, Lisa Grison, Jenn Gunette and Heather Richardson, it marked another milestone in a remarkable career that has also included IIHF and PWHL competition.
“It was really special to be selected. I have been fortunate enough to officiate in the league for numerous years and have seen the growth in the league and further, what the league has done for female hockey. Young girls (and even some boys) idolize these girls, what they represent and their accomplishments.
Each year the players and the overall skill, and speed of the game, gets better and better. The All-Star Game was a great showcase to that. For me, it was an honour to be a part of such a great platform of female hockey, especially the first one. And who knows, maybe we as officials have inspired some young players to get into officiating!”
Just a few weeks ago, many of these remarkable players from the CWHL All-Star rosters were representing their respective countries at the Four Nations Cup in Kelowna, British Columbia. As a side note, she had the chance to work with Elizabeth Mantha, an accomplished hockey player with the Montreal Carabins of the CIS, who is also contributing to the game as an official.
Having had the privilege of officiating at that event, Stratton found herself surrounded by the world’s finest talent. Being back on the ice for the CWHL All-Star Game, reunited with so much of that remarkable talent, the chance to grace the ice at Air Canada Centre embodied the love of the game,
“Anytime as an official that you get to do that level of hockey, it is great to be on the ice. It allows you the opportunity to elevate your game and to showcase your skills out there with the players. As you see them more and more, you get to know some of them and build good rapport.
Especially to be back on the ice with most of them after seeing many of them at the 2014 Four Nations Cup was unique – to have dealt with them in high level competition and then a more fun atmosphere. It brings a bit of a reality check – we are all just people that love hockey and love to do what we do whether it is as a player, coach or official.”
Like the players, coaches and volunteers who emerged from the aftermath of the inaugural CWHL All-Star Game with a series of exciting experiences, the referees and officials were equally impacted. Taking into account the solid contributions that Stratton, Grison, Guennette and Richardson have made to the women’s game, their efforts were part of an exceptional day.
From the television exposure on SportsNet in Canada and the NHL Network for American fans, to the major league feeling that came with being on the ice at Air Canada Centre, it marked a watershed moment for the CWHL and women’s hockey. Stratton reflects on it with feelings of enjoyment and exuberance,
“For me, the All-Star game was probably the most fun I have had on the ice in a long time. It was great to be a part of it – the players and the league put on an amazing show.
We were all looking up at the in-game entertainment, joining in the wave and just enjoying the moment. We had some fun, skated hard, blew some calls and got to be part of the entertainment. It was a really wicked experience.”
“All other quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”
Photo details: (Left to right) Jenn Guenette, Heather Richardson, Lisa Grison and Vanessa Stratton. Image supplied by Vanessa Stratton