Wiegand: “Go for it!”
by Lucas AYKROYD|04 OCT 2023
Referee Anna Wiegand signals to the bench during the 2022 Olympic women's hockey final in Beijing.
photo: © International Ice Hockey Federation / Andre Ringuette
After Anna Wiegand refereed the 2022 Olympic women’s hockey gold medal game in Beijing, she  was on top of the world. 
The final – an epic 3-2 Canadian win over the archrival U.S. – was the perfect way for the Finnish-born, Swiss-trained referee to end her IIHF officiating career. However, Wiegand (nee Eskola) hasn’t rested since retiring on a high.
Today, the 38-year-old pioneer finds joy in sharing her knowledge of how to wear the stripes successfully. Since 1 August, she’s held the title of Development Officiating Manager, Women & Prospects with the Swiss Ice Hockey Federation. She is a role model for aspiring IIHF officials.
She has plenty of great memories to reflect upon. In total, Wiegand reffed at two Olympics (2014, 2022) and five IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championships (2015, 2016, 2017, 2019, 2021). That also included officiating the Women’s Worlds gold medal games in 2016, 2017, and 2021.
“I absolutely love hockey,” said Wiegand. “I would even go as far as saying it’s my first love.”
Anna Wiegand (second from right) and her fellow officials receive awards from IIHF Council Member Marta Zawadzka after the 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey Women's World Championship gold medal game in Plymouth, Michigan.
photo: © International Ice Hockey Federation / Matt Zambonin
She grew up in the Tampere-area town of Orivesi with three younger brothers enrolled in hockey. Skating on local frozen ponds and outdoor rinks was second nature. She admired the vision of Ilves Tampere legend Raimo Helminen, the leadership of Detroit Red Wings captain Steve Yzerman, and the power forward game of Team Canada ace Hayley Wickenheiser.
Opportunities for women’s hockey players in Finland were limited in those days, but Wiegand played as much as she could. She got her first taste of officiating around age 16, as she wanted to coach young children, and doing some reffing was a requirement.
It was after landing a job as a sport coordinator at the IIHF’s Zurich headquarters in 2005 that Wiegand’s refereeing dreams truly blossomed. She got her officiating license in 2007 while doubling as a defender for ZSC Lions Frauen in the Swiss Women’s Hockey League B.
“I think the key for me was that I had pretty decent skating ability before I got my license,” Wiegand said. “I also had a basic understanding of the game, having played myself. And honestly, I fell flat on my face a couple of times over the years! There's truly no better way to learn than by making mistakes. If I set my mind on something, it's really hard to get me off of that track.”
She credits numerous IIHF staff members with helping her succeed, including longtime IIHF sport director Dave Fitzpatrick and officiating manager Konstantin Komissarov. The confidence she gained from their support helped her get through the rough patches.
“My first official game ever as a referee was an absolute disaster!” Wiegand recalled with a laugh. “During the game, I felt like I was doing a lot of things, but in hindsight, I’d forgotten half of the procedures on my to-do list as a ref. But with that said, I still had a fun time for two hours on the ice.”
As she officiated more Swiss women’s hockey games, her dedication to fitness kept her on track to achieve her dream of top-level refereeing.
“It’s almost like biathlon where you have to function under stress,” Wiegand said. “You need to be able to make decisions super-quickly and communicate them confidently – while your heart rate is still at 160. I was lucky enough to meet some good trainers when I was gearing up for Sochi.”
It wasn’t easy to get seven hours of sleep nightly prior to the Winter Games. She’d work a full day and then go for training sessions at 21:00. Yet it all paid off with her Olympic debut on 9 February 2014. She refereed the host nation’s 4-1 opening win over Germany
“I remember the building was so loud,” Wiegand said. “The crowd was going absolutely bonkers. On offsides and icing calls, all three of us officials had to blow our whistles because otherwise nobody heard us! I also remember before the game, we saw where we were supposed to walk to the ice. It was very close to the crowd. The local organizers were like, ‘Oh, don’t worry. This is very good.’ It was a decent game with penalties both ways. And people sitting at the lower levels would high-five us coming off the ice. So it was like a real festival for sport.”
Wiegand had no room for complacency as she got the call to make her Women’s Worlds debut in 2015 in Malmo. But the experience wasn’t everything she’d dreamed of.
“I had an awful championship in Malmo,” said Wiegand. "I came home and I was like, ‘Okay, that’s it. I’m never doing this again. I’m quitting. I’m obviously not capable enough.’ But there was a lot of other difficult stuff going on in my life. So that tournament just sort of came at the wrong time, I guess. Looking back, I’m very grateful I didn’t choose to end my officiating career in Malmo.”
On-ice in Malmo, though, she did enjoy the IIHF’s inaugural adoption of the two-person referee system in women’s hockey.
“It was a big transition, but for me, it was always a positive one,” Wiegand said. “I thought: ‘I really enjoy this! This is fun, sharing responsibility, having another teammate.’ I liked the increase in skating backwards since I always played defence as a player..”
At the 2016 Women’s Worlds in Kamloops, things went much better for Wiegand.
“I think Kamloops was a really special one for me. I needed to keep pushing because I wasn’t sure if I was cut out for refereeing. So I went there with the attitude of ‘Don’t focus on on the little details. Just try to enjoy the experience. Be a good team player and good person. Support everyone and go with the flow.’ And Kamloops was such a smooth tournament for me. We had a lovely group as well and a nice hotel beside the South Thompson River. I worked the quarters, semis and my first final ever, [a 1-0 U.S. overtime win over Canada] in front of a full house."
The atmosphere, of course, was completely different at the 2021 Women’s Worlds in Calgary, played in a pandemic bubble. Despite the isolation, Wiegand made the most of it.
“I actually found it really relaxing,” she said. “I’d literally just had my second baby and life at home was intense. Whereas others struggled a bit with the bubble limitations, I was able to sleep. I had my laptop to do some work. I’m quite good at being by myself. The hardest thing was to go to the rink and get the right mindset. Suddenly there’s a fast-paced hockey game and you have to get your engine going!
Wiegand has received plenty of accolades for her officiating, including a special award from Swiss Ice Hockey last year. And she maintains a close connection to the game on the home front. She’s married to longtime Swiss referee Marc Wiegand, with whom she made history on 11 March 2022, becoming the first woman ever to referee a Swiss NL game.
Today, her new SIHF job enables her to help officials at every level.
“I focus on supporting and developing our female game officials, as well as working with up-and-coming game officials, ones who still work regional hockey games but have showcased so many good traits and talents that they’re being considered for bigger assignments. I also work with the so-called 'prospects' at the competitive sport level, which includes the U20 elite, Swiss League, and National League. That means the rookies, those who have made it but are in their first to third season in these leagues. My job is to make sure their development needs are being carefully considered and they get the support they require.”
In addition, Wiegand is starting her second season as an IIHF Officiating Coach, where the focus is on the international game. She’s excited to mentor the next generation of officials who have their eyes set on the 2026 Olympics in Milan. What advice would she give to someone contemplating a refereeing career?
“Go for it! My soul starts to sing when I see people like that. Whether or not you make it to the Olympics or your national league, refereeing is such a good school for life: being put on the spot, making decisions, communicating clearly. Refereeing has had an effect on my career, my relationships, everything. Definitely give it a try!