CALGARY — Erica Holmes feels she’s hit the glass ceiling as a hockey official in Alberta, echoing concerns by a female counterpart that she can’t advance to higher levels in the men’s game.
Cassandra Gregory, an Edmonton linesman, had her name put forward by her regional referees committee to work Alberta Junior Hockey League games this season.
She would have been the first female official in the league. But Hockey Alberta, which assigns linesmen to AJHL games, did not give her any games.
Holmes says she has more roadblocks in front of her than Gregory.
“I didn’t have the same experience Cassandra did, because I don’t feel I had the support she did in her zone,” Holmes told The Canadian Press. “Her name got put forward and mine never did.
“I’ve worked at everything I’ve been told. I’ve been passed by so many of my peers in the last two years and I’m especially frustrated this year seeing the people that have moved up and leapfrogged me to get into the league.”
Former NHL linesman Mike Cvik, now a volunteer officials supervisor, feels both Holmes and Gregory deserve an AJHL tryout.
“They can work this league and why they’re not, it’s not right,” he said.
Holmes, 31, is from Brandon, Man., but lives in Calgary. She is a Level 4 official, which is the second-highest qualification a female can achieve under Hockey Canada’s certification system.
Hockey Canada introduced a Level 5 for women in 2014.
Holmes worked the Alberta midget triple-A hockey league playoff finals three years ago as a linesman.
She recently refereed the men’s quarterfinals of the prestigious Mac’s midget triple-A tournament in Calgary.
But Holmes, who is five foot six and 150 pounds, wants to be a linesman again because that is the logical avenue to working in the AJHL.
“I would like to be a linesman in the league,” she said. ”That would give me a really good feel for the league and I’ve expressed this to multiple people.
“I more or less asked why they haven’t moved me in as a linesman. I’m told I’m only seen as a referee. But apparently I did a good enough job linesing to make it to finals of the province.
“I feel they’re going to just pigeonhole me and use it as an excuse. At least two other gentlemen who did finals with me, they got moved up into the AJ and I did not.”
Rob Archambault, a former AJHL official who is an officials supervisor in Calgary, said Holmes was one of the top linesman in the Alberta Midget Hockey League “and had earned her opportunity to at least try out for the AJHL,” he said.
Holmes has the requisite awareness, Archambault said, which means she can anticipate hot spots after the whistle and defuse situations so the referee doesn’t have to call a penalty.
“She had very good awareness and that understanding of the game in that she knew where to be and when to be there,” he explained.
“She is an excellent skater, she has good game sense and excellent communication with the players and coaches. That carries over into her being a very good referee, but it also makes an excellent linesman.”
The AJHL’s supervisor of officials, who is also Hockey Alberta’s manager of officiating, says people get frustrated if they’re not promoted.
“I’m not comfortable speaking about any one particular official,” Curtis Nichols said. “If an official is not working the level they want or think they can, they’re upset.
“That’s not a gender issue. That’s human nature. They want to work at the highest level they can.
“For any official, if you’re not at the level you want to be at, you need to keep working at where you’re at and become the best at that level.”
In junior A hockey across Canada, four women are linesmen in Saskatchewan this season, Kaylah Krieger works lines in Manitoba, Cydnie Rice was the first female official in the BCHL in 2014 when she was a linesman and Meghan Mallette referees New Brunswick Junior Hockey League games.
Former NHL referee Paul Stewart said at his December induction into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame that he would like to help women officiate in the NHL.
But Holmes sees the AJHL as a stepping stone to working international games.
“This is a step to bettering myself as an official, that will hopefully help me accomplish my goals,” she explained. “It’s faster hockey. You have to make quicker decisions.
“I get that I’m never going to make it to the NHL. My goal is to make the IIHF.”
Holmes is older than 23-year-old Gregory and feels she’s running out of time to achieve her hockey dreams.
“I’m told to wait,” Holmes said. “I’m 31. In five years I hope to have a family. It’s different for females than it is for males. Do I give up on this, because is it worth it?”