Hockey leagues across Canada facing unprecedented hockey referee shortage


After a pause in 2020 due to the pandemic, hockey is back in a big way across B.C.

“Hockey’s come back really strong, and it’s created a little bit of a rush back to the ice,” said Cameron Hope, the CEO of BC Hockey.

But there hasn’t been the same return of refs.

“They’ve had games cancelled in Victoria, on the South Island. I think there’s been three,” said Jim Humphrey, the president of the Vancouver Island Amateur Hockey Association.

In B.C. referee registration is down 30 per cent, a number that’s reflected, or even worse, across the country.

“In Hockey Canada statistics, we had a meeting yesterday with all the provinces, most of them are reporting anywhere from 30-50 per cent decreases in usual registration,” said Sean Raphael, the referee-in-chief of BC Hockey.

Hockey refs have to be re-certified every year. But with the pandemic cancelling part of the 2020 season, many officials found other jobs or didn’t re-certify, creating a large gap especially in referees with past experience.

“I would say right now pretty collectively U15 and U18 categories are being hit the hardest because that’s where the attrition occurred. The new officials are starting at U11 so they’re not ready to make that step,” said Raphael.

On Vancouver Island, the unprecedented ref shortage is forcing leagues to reduce the number of officials they have reffing a game.

“In some of the cases, we’re lucky to have a three-person system. Most of our systems on the island are two-person systems,” said Humpries.

And that’s resulting in an increased workload on the often young refs and extra pressure from parents.

“We’re worried a little bit about burnout. We’re hoping we’re managing it ok but we gotta keep our eye on it,” said Hope.

For now, BC Hockey has reduced or eliminated certification fees for returning officials to attract more back to the game.

In the meantime, the message to parents is to practice patience with the referee who is allowing the kids to continue to play.

If you’re interested in officiating on Vancouver Island, you can reach out to the Vancouver Island Amateur Hockey Association at 250-751-8811 to sign up.

Kori SidawayKori Sidaway

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