AHL referee White sees women making progress toward NHL

American Hockey League referee Laura White officiates a Flyers intra-squad scrimmage on Saturday at the Flyers Training Center in Voorhees, N.J. (Photo by Wayne Fish)

      VOORHEES, N.J. — The NFL has them. So does the NBA.

      So why are there no female referees/officials in the National Hockey League?

      Is the professional sport simply waiting for a well-trained woman to prove she’s worthy of such a task?

      Well, you certainly didn’t hear any catcalls from the stands at the Flyers Training Center on Saturday when Cinnaminson, N.J.’s Laura White, a referee in the American Hockey League, worked an intra-squad scrimmage at the Flyers Training Center.

      Not that you would expect any booing for a training camp match with nothing at stake.

      White and a handful of other female referees do see a day when a qualified woman will work at the ultimate level.

      “When you’re working toward something, it’s definitely the goal to always be at the highest level,” White said. “Right now we’re going into the third year (in the AHL) and trying to get as much experience as we can.

      “We’re just trying to get comfortable at the AHL level. Learn the standard and when to apply it. Get more experience.”

      OK, that’s fine, but we’re pretty sure there are a lot of hockey fans out there – and women, in particular – who want to know a specific date. On a visit to the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia last season, commissioner Gary Bettman confirmed that progress is being made. As for a timeline to when we might see an NHL ref, no definitive word just yet.

      “I think hockey, with the speed on the ice, and the fact that you are so involved in the actual game at that level – working your way through the players – you just have to be able to have that speed and read of the play,” White explained.

      “Having experience at the AHL level will work toward that (NHL) goal. . .being comfortable and able to read the play and keeping up with the speed.”

      No doubt the depth of the field of female hockey officials is getting deeper. Nearly a dozen women, including White, experienced a breakthrough when they were elevated to the AHL a couple years ago.

      So far, there have been few complaints at games involving teams such as the Lehigh Valley Phantoms of the AHL. You know what they say about baseball umpires, right? If you don’t notice them, they’re probably doing their job.

      Having a new Professional Women’s Hockey League helps the cause as well. If the women players command respect, it can only help the female officials’ cause.

      “We’re definitely trying to grow the women’s game itself,” White said. “Officiating has a lot of development programs, a lot of training camps and we’ve started a lot of mentorships that we can kind of promote. We just trying to get better as a whole group.”

      Many believe the eventual hiring of women officials will only add to the overall popularity of the game. How would it advance the overall NHL cause?

      “I think it would just create more eyes on the sport,” White said. “And the overall interest in the game.”

      White will be officiating in the new women’s league and says she’s excited about that. Philadelphia does not have a team (yet) but this is certainly a step in the right direction.

      “Hopefully we’ll get some games in this area,” she said. “I know it’s a little more spread out now (three teams in United States, three teams in Canada).”

      White also keeps busy officiating international tournaments.

      “I just got back from China in August,” she said. “It was originally scheduled for April but got postponed because of travel regulations. I was in China for Women’s 1A and then I’m going to Switzerland in January for the women’s 18s.”

      Public interest in the women’s officials movement at the highest level can only help the cause.

      “I think it’s a good thing,” White said. “There’s eyes on it all the time and I think it’s showing interest in wanting us there.”

      White, 35, started playing the sport at age 4. During the Flyers scrimmage, her quick moves around the ice were both fluid and highly athletic. In her playing career, she took part in Division I ice hockey (right wing, later defense) for Robert Morris University in Pittsburgh, then began a six-year career as a government contractor in Virginia before returning to the Philadelphia area.

      Along the way she played youth hockey for the Thunderbirds and later the Junior Phantoms.

      It would be nice to see her get a shot at the NHL before too many years roll by.

      “The culture at that (NHL) level is different,” she said. “They (professional) players respect us.

      “It’s good to get on the ice here, the AHL season is coming up. It feels good to just get out there and skate.”

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About Wayne Fish 2437 Articles
Wayne Fish has been covering the Flyers since 1976, a stint which includes 18 Stanley Cup Finals, four Winter Olympics and numerous other international events.