For the first time in the history of the National Hockey League, four women were included in the list of 96 officials participating in the 2019 NHL Exposure Combine. These four women were chosen to officiate many rookie tournaments set in Nashville, Buffalo, Traverse City and Irvine. These events delivered on some daunting challenges, but also some great experiences for the four women, Kirsten Welsh, Katie Guay, Kendall Hanley and Kelly Cooke. This groundbreaking step was taken to move to a point which Gary Bettman, NHL Commissioner, already envisioned a while ago, where women would be officiating games at the league level.
Both Cooke and Guay were selected to perform as referees. After officiating the women’s world hockey championships during spring, she was included in the Predators Tournament which took place in Nashville. She has been working as an official on the ice for a decade already. During 2016 she retired from her playing career in NWHL where she played for Boston Pride. Cooke then moved on to become the director of player safety for the league. She also started to attend law school. Last year she officiated in Finland at the women’s world championship for the IIHF. Cooke mentioned in her commentary that initially it was quite daunting to see the large guys coming onto the ice and for a moment she wasn’t convinced that she would be able to do this, but she did. She managed perfectly fine to deal with the higher levels of strength and speed, which goes along with the men on the ice.
Guay was on the ice in Irvine for the Anaheim Ducks. She is currently employed as director of philanthropy for United States Hockey and was the one with the most officiating experience on a high level. She has been involved in officiating since 2006 already and during 2015 she was the first-ever women to be on the ice for the NCAA Division I men’s games. She was also present in the capacity as an official in 2018 at the Winter Olympics held in South Korea. During February last year, she also became the first women to officiate at the Beanpot tournament in Boston. Guay stated that the entire experience is a learning curve for all involved.
Kirsten Welsh and Kendall Hanley
These two ladies were in the position of linesmen. Hanley was on the ice in Traverse City, Michigan for the Detroit Red Wings’ tournament while Welsh was working in Buffalo. Hanley is now in her 12th year of working in the capacity of officiating at the IIHF. She has also been on the lines for NAHL and USHL since she is a member of the Hockey Officiating Development Program of the USA. The much younger 22-year-old Welsh was until recently involved as a defenseman for the Robert Morris University. Her first opportunity to officiate was during the Exposure Combine, and she loved the experience. She was very excited about the opportunity to be part of the action on the ice with great athletes.