Hopeful officials

Women from 15 countries aim at reffing in IIHF competitions


Olympic gold medal game ref and new referee instructor Joy Tottman (middle) with two of the aspiring game officials at the 2014 IIHF Hockey Development Camp, Ainslie Gardner from Australia (left) and Jessica Brambilla from Italy (right). Photo: Martin Merk

VIERUMÄKI, Finland – The 2014 IIHF Hockey Development Camp also included a program with 21 game officials who hope to reach the international level – and a first-time referee instructor with Joy Tottman from Great Britain, who a couple of months ago officiated the women’s gold medal game at the Sochi Olympics.

But don’t get her presence wrong. She’ll continue on the ice. “I’m going to work hard,” she said about her prospects of being in PyeongChang 2018.

At the same time she started to work behind the scenes where she helps Ice Hockey UK’s referee-in-chief with the development program for officials and takes responsibility for female officials. Now she also joined the international scene in an off-ice position by participating in Vierumäki as a referee instructor alongside experience members from the IIHF Officiating Committee.

“This is a new challenge for me and a good opportunity to try to give something back to a development program, which I started on 11 years ago. I was here at the first women’s hockey development camp here in Vierumäki in 2003,” Tottman said.

Many things may have changed since with additional sporting facilities built in Vierumäki but the passion remains the same and she hopes to pass it to a new generation.

“It’s nice to have the opportunity to help people who are in my position when I first came. One of the most rewarding things to see the girls who don’t know each other and are very shy but by the end of the week they’re best friends and confident and talking with each other and changing things they do on the ice.”

The officials came with different backgrounds, from different regions and different levels of officiating standards.

Ainslie Gardner had the longest way to go, at least geographically, coming from Adelaide.

“It’s a long way to travel from Australia but it’s certainly worth it because of the instructions we have received here. It’s better than anything I could ever get in Australia. It’s amazing,” Gardner said about her week with fellow officials in Finland – the first time she was abroad as a referee.

In Down Under there’s only a limited number of female players and officials. For her it was also a first to be together with that many women sharing the same passion.

“It’s good to officiate in Australia but I’ve never officiated with this many women, so it’s good to be able to see my standing compared to other people in the world. I’m mainly officiating with men in Australia,” she said.

In a usual game she officiates a men’s game with two male colleagues because of the low number of games in the women’s hockey league. “I do in a year over 50 games including four women’s games,” she said.

“It’s great meeting people who were lucky enough to do international games and find out where to go. It’s great to work with people who have made this experience,” Gardner said.

She’s also proud that she was among the first officials in an IIHF-run event to call games with the hybrid icing rules and learning not just about the technical aspects of officiating but also focusing on mental and physical preparation. “That was very intuitive,” she said.

Less far away is Milan where Jessica Brambilla comes from. But with a number of officials relatively low in comparison to the number of players in Italy, she comes from a program with different challenges. Brambilla turned from playing to officiating due to problems with an arm but her love for hockey made her search for new opportunities in the sport, so she tried as a ref.

“I studied the rule book, the case book, asked questions and decided I wanted to do that,” she said. “It was strange in the beginning without a stick and not playing with the puck but now I’m really happy about what I do. It’s fantastic.

“I learned many things here because I have just officiated one year and I have a lot to learn. This camp helps me a lot and I got things explained that I didn’t understand or was not clear.”

Since there are only a few women’s games, she also officiated in men’s hockey. Sometimes she officiates a game alone, most of the time as a pair of officials.

“Here it was the first time I officiated in the three-man system. It’s a great experience and I really appreciate to be here,” she said. “I have never officiated with women before.”

What do these officials dream of who, until now, have only officiated in national competition? The same as established officials.

“I want to officiate the Olympics. I will! Hopefully 2022,” said Gardner aiming high. Brambilla affirmatively nods with a smile.

“I’ve learned that some people have very strong dedication and they can progress and move forward even if they have no support from other people,” Tottman said about what impressed her at the camp.

It’s this kind of dedication that can hopefully bring some of them to the top level. It took Tottman four years until she officiated a gold medal game in the Women’s World Championship after participating in the Hockey Development Camp as a ref and 11 years until doing the same in the Olympics.

“I really hope the girls will make it and maybe I will once officiate with them,” Tottman said. “I hope by being here I was able to inspire them what they can do and to show that the opportunities are there. This for them could be the start of an incredible and fun journey and I hope I’ll see them on the journey.”

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