They call slashing penalties, but it is now the refs themselves who have been slashed.
The number of available referees and on-ice officials for minor hockey leagues in the region are at an all-time low. And unless more black and white sweaters are hooked, the absence will trip up a lot of game-play for area hockey teams.
"It's a big issue right now for us, and across the area," says Lac La Biche Minor Hockey Association's ice and referee scheduler Julia Collins. "Right now we only have two refs in the community who are certified to start out games ... in past years we've had up to 10."
Younger prospects are needed to help officiate the U-7 to U-13 games, while older skaters are needed for the U15 to U-18 games.
If refs can't be found, games, schedules and costs will be affected.
Local league officials say the COVID pandemic and the last two years of shortened and interrupted hockey seasons is likely one factor for the widespread shortage of qualified officials. Some may have let their annual certifications slip, while others may have opted to leave their local communities to skate with teams in other areas.
To help attract the much-needed newcomers, the association is hosting an in-person referee clinic on Ocotber 30. For anyone interested in attending, an online officiating program must first be completed.
Collins says good skaters over the age of 14 are welcome to register for the Level 1 training. There is also an emphasis on skaters over the age of 16 who can qualify for Level 2 officiating
"Right now, we are so short of older referees. We hope to bring some of them back and to attract younger ones to come up in the years ahead," she said, explaining the wide-range of options for anyone interested."Obviously, you need the basic skills of skating, but really, we want to encourage anyone to do it."
Helping to sweeten the pot, Collins says the pay scale for referees is pretty decent, averaging around $40 per game for entry level. As well, any skater who helps to officiate three minor hockey games will get reimbursed for the $130 referee clinic fee.
Away from home
If the referee shortage continues, Collins and officials with the local hockey association says that home ice games will be a luxury and away games in communities that have available officials will become the norm. Other options could see referees from other communities brought into the local arenas for games ... but that would be a cost likely passed onto annual association registration fees.
"It's really not a good situation right now — but we hope we get people on the ice to help our teams," she said.
From recent reports, many minor hockey associations are facing similar shortages that could see the delay of game whistle blown on teams across the Lakeland.