Kelly Cooke always dreamed about officiating at the Olympics.
While she was assigned to ref the Women’s Worlds event in Calgary over the summer, she didn’t know scouts from the NHL had their eyes on her.
With the Olympics still on her radar, Cooke now has another goal, one she didn’t consider prior: the NHL.
“We didn’t find out until after the tournament,” she said. “I was definitely surprised. I never really thought about it, it seemed out of the blue, but very excited for the opportunity. … I never thought about officiating men’s professional hockey, in the AHL or NHL, nobody’s done it before, for women, so I don’t think anyone thought about it.”
She and nine other women — Katie Guay, Laura White, Samantha Hiller, Elizabeth Mantha Amanda Tassoni and Jacqueline Zee Howard as refs and Kendall Hanley, Kirsten Welsh and Alexandra Clarke as linespeople — were hired as officials in the NHL’s minor league, the American Hockey League, before the season. Cooke officiated her first AHL contest last Sunday, when Rochester was in Utica.
A refereeing shortage across the country has made sharing officials across leagues essential, and opened up the officiating pool.
“I think each of these women have taken their own path,” said AHL Vice President of Hockey Operations Hayley Moore. “We had NHL scouts out at Women’s Worlds, and that was a part of this process. … There’s a ton of collaboration and communication among all of the leagues, which has been really cool to experience.”
Moore, who had served as the deputy commissioner of the National Women’s Hockey League and then president of the Boston Pride franchise, said the women’s game varied in the sense of fewer leagues and developmental areas for referees.
The pipeline to the NHL doesn’t have one direct path; the AHL is the next step toward the NHL, but Cooke is still officiating women’s college games — mostly Hockey East — as well.
Moore stressed sharing those refs keeps communication open, and gave the AHL an opportunity to bring the women in.
“A big way these officials get promoted, from one league to the next, is through that collaboration,” she sad. “Going from the junior level to pro level, to climbing the ranks through that pipeline, but we also have refs reach out to various supervisors in each league to get their name out there.”
Each league has a different set of rules, and the men’s and women’s game vary, as do working ECHL games to the AHL or from college to junior.
Since refs will work in multiple leagues, they juggle the different rule books from game to game; the AHL is no different.
“We’re pretty used to having to learn a rule book in a short amount of time,” said Cooke. “We were lucky to have used the NHL rule book, with slight variations, in Calgary so we were already immersed in that rule book in August. It’s nice we had time to learn it there and then, and there aren’t that many differences.”
Cooke was one of four women who were a part of the NHL’s rookie tournaments in 2019, the first time the NHL tried out any women officials. Cooke was in Nashville, while Guay officiated in Anaheim, Welsh in Buffalo and Hanley in Traverse City, Michigan.
The four of them were a part of the 2019 NHL Exposure Combine, where 96 officials partook. The NHL has run the combine the past seven years, and it’s opened doors to find new officiating talent.
“We work closely with the NHL and their scouts and officiating managers to have eyes on as many leagues as possible,” said Moore. “That way it’s possible to identify top officials that we might want to onboard into the AHL level.”
As leagues continue to share more officials, it adds more experienced refs across the entire sport. Perhaps Cooke or Guay or any of the others are close to bringing that wealth of knowledge to the NHL next.
Before the Kraken’s first home game at Climate Pledge Arena on Saturday night, the team learned more about its hockey origins on Thursday.
While the team saw their arena for the first time ever, Seattle lore had an appearance.
“We had a little bit of a history lesson (Thursday),” said Kraken forward Jared McCann. “The history of the Metropolitans, and that kind of stuff. There’s a lot of history here, we’re so happy to be a part of it.”
The Metropolitans went 9-9 in their first season in 1915, and went on to win the Stanley Cup in 1917. The Kraken’s legacy more than 100 years later, in the shadows of the Metropolitans, fall on players like McCann.
“We’re all really excited,” he said. “I wouldn’t say it’s a lot of pressure, but it is there, with everything being new.”
Chicago, Montreal struggle
The Canadiens come to Seattle on Tuesday in one of the most epic slumps in the history of clubs coming off a Stanley Cup Final appearance. Starting the year 0-4-0, Montreal hasn’t shown any of the energy that brought it a surprising Cup run last season.
Carey Price has remained out, while the loss of Phillip Danault has left a huge gap up front. Through their first four games, the Canadiens had scored only four goals.
They are matched only perhaps by Chicago, booed off the ice following a 4-1 loss against Vancouver earlier in the week and then adding three players to the COVID protocol list on Saturday.
It’s early in the season — after all, Buffalo is making its annual early-season pump fake — but those clubs are off to the worst starts against their expectations.