The Greater Trail Minor Hockey Association (GTMHA) is having a difficult time securing referees for its games this season.
After last season’s limited play due to COVID, this year has seen fewer officials stepping up and onto the ice.
“Recruiting and retaining officials has been difficult this year,” said GTMHA president Trent McNabb. “But we’re trying to do our best and do a little push to get more people certified and take the courses. We’ve already had to cancel some games due to no refs.”
The decline in officials has affected games in this year’s minor hockey schedule in Trail, and Jim Maniago, a senior official and GTMHA vice president, says that it has also negatively impacted minor hockey leagues everywhere.
“Yes, it’s a problem for sure,” said Maniago. “It’s not just here, it’s across Canada, but we are struggling with having capable officials to cover the amount of games we have.”
BC Hockey has documented a significant decrease in the number of Level 2 referees in B.C., which is the group that officiates the majority of minor hockey games.
“I think people have found other things to do, a lot of the older teenage kids have jobs that they didn’t before and we just don’t have the numbers we need of senior officials. And with a lack of adults it leaves kids out there together dealing with coaches and fans without any support. It’s intimidating.”
GTMHA has had to discipline at least one coach and caution parents about abusing officials, and while there has been progress and fewer incidents, even one is too many.
“We have had to cancel games this year for the kids because we didn’t have refs and have had to send kids out there into situations they weren’t ready for because we had no other options,” said Maniago. “Those are both terrible situations and it would be a shame to have more games cancelled, but with tournaments coming up at the older levels it’s quite likely that will happen.”
The minimum age to start refereeing is 12, but Maniago would like to see more people age 16-plus take the clinics and earn extra money officiating.
“It doesn’t have to be a huge time commitment,” said Maniago. “For minor hockey if we had a bunch of adults that would do one game per weekend it would make a big difference.”
Maniago suggests having parents take the course and line a game, not only would they get paid to watch their kid(s) play, they’d be right in the action.
“I think a lot has been done to limit the amount of abuse that refs get and, in general, it’s much better than it was, but it only takes one game where a kid is unsupported to turn them off.
“Our association has done whatever it can to shield refs from some of the historic problems and I think most games go quite smoothly.”
Even Junior hockey has seen a shortage of referees this season, however, on most occasions the respective leagues can cover games with referees from other areas.
Dan Hanoomansingh, manager of officiating with Hockey Canada, reported that B.C. has seen a 30 per cent drop in the number of registered referees compared to last season, and, provinces like Quebec and Ontario have seen over 50 per cent of their officiating corps depleted.
In response, BC Hockey has set up some last minute clinics in December for anyone that has previously been carded as an official. The clinics are all online and registration is through the BC Hockey website. They are three hour clinics and will run on Dec 11, 14, 15, 16, or 18.
GTMHA will reimburse people for the cost once the official has done a certain amount of games.
“Anyone interested can contact any of the GTMHA executive and we can help set them up,” added Maniago.
BC Hockey is also willing to put on an in-person clinic for brand new officials if GTMHA get enough people interested. There is a brief online course to take and then the in-person clinic, which is usually done in an evening and includes a one hour on-ice orientation.