"I work probably a dozen NWHL games per year. I do mostly ECAC Men’s and Women’s D-1 College Hockey, that’s where the majority of my schedule comes from." Katie Guay Photo courtesy of the Boston Herald

KATIE GUAY: FROM WRIST SHOTS TO WHISTLES


“What does it take to be the first female anything? It takes grit, and it takes grace.”    
                                                                                                                   Meryl Streep

Cetacean Nation is always appreciative of the great work that the NWHL on ice officials do, the referees and linesmen. And when we checked to see who was on the ice with a striped jersey and orange arm band on October 11, 2015, we found a name we recognized: Katie Guay. And as you’ll see, reffing the first game in NWHL history was not her only first. Or even her first one. The quote above is spot on when applied to hockey. To record the number of firsts in a career like Katie has certainly requires grit and grace. And obviously extraordinary talent. Katie has all three in abundance. But since we brought that up, let’s get some of her thoughts on that first game, which was also the first Whale win. As expected, Katie immediately recalled

“That was Connecticut and the Riveters at Chelsea Piers. I definitely remember walking into that facility, which was incredible, and just the amount of people that were there to be part of the event. A lot of fans waiting at the door, I remember it being a sold out event. It was really amazing to be part of history and the NWHL! And certainly, I wish that when I had graduated from college there was an opportunity to continue playing. And unfortunately at the time, there wasn’t that opportunity. So I was certainly amazed to see the excitement and energy in the building for the people there to witness the first game. And I know the players were psyched to be out there, and I would have been too if I’d had the opportunity as a player. But it was just as special to be out there as a referee. And certainly being a part of history and women’s professional hockey meant a lot to me. It was an honor to be out there and witness the first women’s NWHL game, and it’s been a fun ride ever since.”

Katie works about a dozen NWHL games a season, and wouldn’t you know, she also was the referee in another Whale first: our first loss! That’s a game we often refer to as the Haley Moore game. Haley wads then GM of the Ptide, and was short players that day, and pulled on the skates again. Katie commented “I am sure they (the Whale) didn’t like me as much in the game they lost as in the first game, but I understand” she laughed., “It is a small world. She was my teammate at Brown, and I remember that well. And you know what? Haley is just such an unbelievable athlete and player, she just jumped in there. She could have easily continued playing, but she’s an amazing administrator. The game is lucky to have her continued involvement. But she’s incredible. It’s amazing to see the variety of roles she’s played, continuing to grow the women’s game. It was fun to see her out there again. Her hands are filthy, and she certainly has the softest mitts that I’ve ever seen. So it’s always fun to see her in action.“

Katie is from Westfield MA, and lives in Mansfield in the Bay State. We asked her to tell us about how she’s dealt with the pandemic, and what her offseason routine is like. She told us

“So I’ve been hunkering down in Massachusetts, and I don’t think that I’ve ever taken a four plus months hiatus from hockey. So it is certainly difficult not being on the ice. But I know that when I do get back out there the energy will be higher than ever. You’re eager for the season to begin, but it was nice to get a little break, a little longer too, since my season got cut short back in March. But I’m eager to get back on the ice whenever these games resume. Skating is the name of the game in hockey, That’s what I tell little kids that are eager to make the top of the game as a player. But also certainly as a referee as well. As a referee we’re out there the full sixty minutes, so skating ability and endurance are critical to refs. I wish sometimes we could take a shift off, but there’s none of that. So you try to work on your fitness in any way. There are so many comparable that work similar muscles like lunges and squats, ladder type drills, quick feet drills. They are all certainly good ways to stay physically in shape. And then obviously being able to get back on the ice is a change from physical activities. But once you are back out there, it’s just like riding a bike. There are different systems, and now the NWHL is using a four official system. And now that I think about it, it has been the four official system for the duration. Twenty minute shifts at a time, you need to be able to pace yourself and also just stay mentally focused. That’s one of the big parts as well, you just have to stay sharp the whole time you’re out there. And, you can be right in the middle of it during a play stoppage too.” she laughed..

 

Cetacean Nation was curious how many games Katie refereed in a season. She explained  “

"A number is difficult to comprehend, I work a variety of leagues, I work probably a dozen NWHL games per year. I do mostly ECAC Men’s and Women’s D-1 College Hockey, that’s where the majority of my schedule comes from. So I do upwards of 40 D-1 college games a year, and maybe close to twenty D-3 games. And then college club, high school, and youth as well. I don’t really try to put a number to tp the total, Those Saturday morning youth games add up!” she chuckled.. “Every League is a little bit different, College Is certified through the NCAA and we get certified every year. High school Is separate as well,and there’s a couple of different high school organizations. The Federation,is what we use here in Massachusetts, and youth hockey is through USA Hockey. Every league has a meeting to kick off the season and that’s where new rules and new points of emphasis are discussed. “

Katie also told us this about our former #24, another a Brown alumnus,goalie Nicole Stock

“She got into reffing! I talked to her when she was first gerting started, just before she went up to Whistler for her Triathlon. She was coaching at Lawrenceville but also wanted to try reffing. Having that game sense is really helpful. I don’t know where she stands with it, but I did talk to her when she first got going and she was eager to try it out. You have to be pretty crazy to do Ironman Triathlons, so she’ll be a great ref!”

 Nicole Stock was one of the rare goalies to have served as a team captain, and we clarified with Katie if the fact was that only a player wearing a “C” or “A”:could discuss rpthings with the ref. She explained

“Officially, yeah. But you know as an official, you really want to build relationships with the players and coaches. And a lot of time players are asking about our judgement, and understanding the call. So I think if they’re being respectful and asking questions, I find that it’s just as easy to explain the situation. And a lot of times they’re really just asking more of an explanation than hounding us on the call. And so building that relationship with players is really important. And building that mutual respect. “

Cetacean Nation also asked Katie to clary a few other rules, and she did, as follows:

“So the refs are the ones with the arm bands, and they call penalties and goals. The linesman are calling offsides and icing, and too many players on the ice.The goal at the end of the day is to get the call right, and so linesman usually have the best view of the bench, so too many players on the ice is something you see a lot of linesmen calling”

 We also asked Katie to explain a little about dropped or broken sticks. We understood that a broken must be dropped , and Katie said

“Correct. Basically the stick has to handed off to that player. If a defenseman loses a stick in the corner, sometimes a forward will pass the defenseman their stick, so the defenseman can play the puck down deep. Then the forward might either go to the bench and get a stick, or be passed hand to hand from the bench. They are allowed to pick a stick up off the ice, but sometimes the’re not near it. Sometimes the stick goes across the ice, and you’re on the other side, and it’s just easier to grab one from the bench.”

And when we talked about how often the “jumping the boards” rule came up this offseason Katie surprised us, saying

 “I was actually on the game two years ago that created that rule. It was a Harvard, I’m not sure why, But it was just a freak incident where a player was angling another player, round the blue line. And they angled them right towards the boards, which happened to be right at the door, which also happened to be open at the time. And the player that was being angled went right into the door frame, and was badly injured. And so the league did the rule, which is not part of any other rule book, special just to the NWHL. But it stemmed from an issue that was caused on ice and so from then on through today, that rule is in place. I think there are a few little things here and there that the that the league has implemented over the years, but they pretty much are using the NCAA rule book. So it’s basically a modified rulebook.”

Katie at the 2018 Winter Olympics Photo courtesy of Massachusetts Hockey

Katie had told us “I appreciate you reaching out, it means a lot to know that people see there are officials out on the ice too.” We replied that  it was remarkable that they were so often able to blend into the game and become almost  invisible. “That’s the ultimate goal” she laughed. That’s where experience comes in, and agility, and back to endurance. First of all, is the skating ability. You have to be able read a move and get out of the way. But also judging where the players are going to go as the play is developing, trying to read and react, but also anticipate. So certainly there is a ton of anticipation out there. Our goal is to get into the best position and have the best site lines to make the calls.”

 We turned the clock back a bit and asked about how little Katie get started playing hockey in Westfield, MA. She said

“So I was the youngest of three, and I followed my brother and sister to the rink. When I was of age to join the Mites I jumped on the opportunity and took it. From there. I went to Deerfield Academy as a sophomore, and played three years there on the girls team. I played soccer, and I also played softball. And I tried out and made the varsity lacrosse team while I was there at Deerfield too. too. So I basically played boys hockey all the way through 9th grade, then went to Deerfield and played with the girls. And I played with the Connecticut Polar Bears my senior year of high school, and went to Brown from there.”

Katie had a great career at Brown University, and we asked her why Brown was her choice for college. She replied

 “Brown had a really strong hockey program. They were the first NCAA college hockey program in the country, so certainly a strong reputation there. And great academics, so just a great combination. It was a good opportunity. “I had four years with Digit”  That of course would be legendary coach Digit Murphy, who now runs the Toronto Six! And at Brown, Katie jumped off to a quick start, with another of her many firsts, this one as a player. On 11/3/01 Katie had a goal in her first game, the first game of her freshman year, at Ivy rival Cornell, So Katie scored the first goal of her NCAA career, in her first game, in the first game of the season. Katie responded to that revelation

“Really? Wow, I can’t remember that stat! Thanks for doing some serious digging” she laughed. " I know it’s tough to dig up some of those stats from back in the day."  But Cetacean Nation thought that Katie could not forget what happened against Yale on 01/11/02. In that game in the second half of her freshman season she scored five goals! And we were right as Katie immediately recalled, laughing

“Yeah, I think every shot I made that day went in. So it was just one of those right place at the right time games. I remember there was one goal, I think it was number four, that was just a long dump out of our end. I beat the defender and the goalie came out to play it, but I beat her to it. So I was just able to go around her, and if I missed that shot, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. I was able to tap that one into an empty net. I also had a few tip ins, and it was just one of those games that you wish you had more games where everything went right for you. Certainly as a referee, it’s the same situation. Out there we just hope everything goes right, and that game, for this player, it did.” 

Katie’s favorite hockey memory  from her playing days for the Brown Bears was also in that 2001-2002 freshman season. she explained 

“My freshman year we had quite the run into the NCAA finals. So we were about .500 at Christmas, going into the second semester, and we went on a 16-1-1 run and made it. Back then they took four teams to the NCAA Tournament, and we were able to win the ECAC league to get that auto bid to the tournament. So we were going in as a #4 seed, and we upset the #1 seed, and made it to the final game, and just came up a bit short. But we certainly had an incredible run and put up a great fight. So that whole stretch that last semester freshman year was just an incredible run, and a lot of fun along the way. It’s tough to get to that final game, and only two teams make it.”

Kate added " I made it that year as a player, and then getting into the refereeing, I was in the Championship game last year at Quinnipiac, and that was another moment of firsts. That was my first time reffing the NCAA finals, but also it was the first time at the Division 1 level that were four females doing the Division 1 Finals. So it was an incredible opportunity and experience, to be out there with three other females. That had been my goal for many years and to be able to do it with three other females and be part of history, and be out there together in that final game as a crew of four women was amazing. The crew was Kelly Cooke, who played at Princeton, and Delaney Harrop was a linesman, she played at Trinity, and Amanda Tassoni, who played at URI, so it was the four of us.”

Katie was also one of the women who served as officials in the Elite Women's 3-on-3 event at the 2020 National Hockey League All-Star Game last year. And became one of four women to officiate at the NHL level for the first time, working in an NHL Prospect Tournament the year before. She was the first female on ice official for the Men's Beanpot Tournament the year before. She reffed in the 2018 Women’s Tournament in the Olympic Games, and was the first female to ref a game in the SPHL, coincidentally the same game that Shannon Szabados picked up the first win in anSPHL game. That’s some impressibpve credentials an firsts! So asked Katie about some of her other firsts, and she responded

 “Now that you mention it, there have been a lot of firsts. I’m the first female official to work a Division 1 men’s regular season college game too. And since we’re talking firsts, I also refereed the first NWHL Isobel Cup Championship game, which was down in Newark, it was Buffalo against Boston (neutral site).”

Cetacean a Nation has shared opinions offered by several Whale players concerning the synergy between coaching and playing. So we asked Katie about that dynamic adding officiating to the equation. She revealed

“That’s one thing I do tell coaches, and players, just try it. Just for people to see sight lines and perspectives. Because I’ve watched many a game from the stands and it’s a whole different game up there. I wish I could just stand up in the balcony and call games because you see everything out there. Once you’re on the ice, you’re looking through players and you’re trying to get the puck and the crosscheck in front of the net. And did the puck cross the goal line? There are just so many other factors, it’s just part of the human element, just part of the game. That’s something I encourage players and coaches to do Just to try and see perspectives. And it’s also just another whole way to learn the game, and build yourself hockey IQ. I wish I had started when I was still playing, because a I think it would have made me a better player. Just to know where the officials stand, and learning the rules of the game, that can help you become a better player. So certainly I encourage people to try it. It’s a different aspect of the game, a different learning opportunity. I think once you do try it, you certainly have a different viewpoint from officiating the game.”

Katie continued “It’s a different way to learn the game. Players that get into coaching, have the coaching perspective, and the playing perspective, but the officiating gives just a different perspective of the game. And I think putting those three pieces together can certainly build up your hockey IQ. For players, you know you’ve got to hang up the skates at some point. Officiating is just another amazing way to stay involved in the game. Eventually everyone’s playing days come to an end, and officiating allows you to extend your time on the ice. To be part of the game, and be there in the action. I spent years coaching in a high school outside Boston. And you know, it’s fun to be on the ice in practice, but being behind the bench during games, you are kind of separated from the ice and you’re not part of the game. But in officiating, the adrenaline flow is just like that of being a player. When you’re out there on a goal line with a scrum in front of the net, that adrenaline is pumping. So it’s just another great way to be part of the game and be on the ice and get that same adrenaline flow that there is as being a player. As a coach, you’re trusting your players to do what you’ve taught them, and at that point, it’s out of your control as a coach. But as a referee we’re out there to react to the actions of the players, it’s fun. You never know what you are going to get when you get into the rink. Every game is a new game, and it’s fun to be part of it. Every game is different, that’s for sure,”

We wondered if there were camps or clinics for referees, and Katie answered

“There are some through USA Hockey, they have some development camps. Which is kind of a path you need to take to get certified to do international hockey. So there are development camps there, and each college league has more of a seminar at the beginning of the year. There’s been a few other camps in New England, kind of combining USA Hockey and the college loops, trying to give more opportunity to officials. And then a few of us, actually the four women who went to the NHL All Star Game, we all went to the NHL officiating combine. What they try to do is get former players introduced to officiating. So that was a camp that was in a Buffalo at the Sabre’s facility, and it was very similar to what the NHL officials go through in their preseason camp. So it’s off ice testing, on ice testing, fitness testing, and skating testing. And then they run you through some classroom work. It’s a great opportunity to see where you are physically compared to your peers. But also to test your abilities and gain some really good insights from some of the NHL supervisors and officials. And so I think last summer was maybe the third time they brought in females.”

“And from that camp there were eleven females, six Americans and five Canadians. And from that camp they brought four of us to do the NHL Rookie Tournament. So I flew out to Anaheim last fall, and did a rookie tournament. So it was guys that are in the systems of some of the NHL teams. So the teams that were out there were the Ducks, the Kings, Vegas, Arizona,and Colorado, maybe one more. It’s a good opportunity for the players to be seen against their peers. And then also for officials to get some fast level experience. And they use that for a lot of the up and coming officials. So that was awesome to be out there. I never thought I would be out in Southrrn California officiating, travel provided by the NHL, so it was a really fun experience.”

“But you know as an official, you really want to build relationships with the players and coaches. And a lot of time players are asking about our judgement, and understanding the call.” Photo courtesy of Massachusetts Hockey

With what us really a very rigorous schedule of games each season, over quite a few seasons now, we asked how Katie has fared physically. She responed

“Knock on wood here, but as I said earlier our goal is to get out there and hopefully not be noticed out there. We try to communicate as much as we can with players obviously, and we try to get in position. And we try to anticipate and get in a position where we are out of the way of both the puck and players. And sometimes we run out of space out there, bit ultimately the goal is to not be seen and not be in the way. Positioning plays a big role, but also communication with the players, letting players know where we are. And hopefully players keep their heads up and are able to steer clear of our path.”

We also asked Katie, from her unique perspective, about the importance of the NWHL, and she told us

“Yeah, I grew up in western Massachusetts and back then, there was very, very little girls hockey. I played with the boys growing up, and once I graduated from college my playing days came to an end. So certainly, having the opportunity to have played in the NWHL would have been incredible. I would have loved to continue playing and be in the game, but at the time there wasn’t that opportunity. The New England market is huge, obviously Minnesota is a big market as well and now they’ve expanded to Toronto. So it’s just great to see the game growing from so many angles. I’m excited to see its continued growth in the future“

With the NWHL and most other leagues, the continuing Covid situation is a looming issue. We asked Katie how she saw that factoring in. She replied

“I’m hopeful, I’m hopeful. The thing’s changing daily, so I’m not really sure where things are going. Certainly it’s been awesome to watch the NHL back on TV and other pro spoeprts, so they’re certainly leading the way, and hopefully colleges are able to find a way to make it happen, and the NWHL as well. I wish I knew the answer there, but we’re all just hoping for the best at this point. I think we’re all eager to get back. It’s starting to happen at the youth level, so hopefully we can all stay healthy and get back on the ice. There have been a ton of camps, and I know in Massachusetts up until very recently, they weren’t allowing any games to happen. But camps were doable. They were limiting the number of players on the ice, and that was manageable, so they kept increasing those numbers. So camps are doable. So hopefully that means the skills are developing, and when we’re back at ir, these games will be even more fun to watch.”

As we wrapped things up with Katie Guay, groundbreaking an trend-setting referee, we asked what was next, starting with her next first. She laughed and said

“I don’t know! Go through a NWHL game without getting yelled at? Maybe that could be one. You know, I’m not sure. I’ve had some incredible experiences and it’s been quite a ride. Never certainly, anything I’d imagined when I first got into it. So really, trying to get more players to think about officiating, and trying to grow the number of females that are among the officiating crews. And get more players out there. And now for me it’s exciting to mentor some of the up and coming officials, and to see their growth and to introduce the officiating side of the game to players. And I think the NWHL is a great breeding ground for officials. “ We thank Katie for her unique viewpoints and insights into the game we love. So the next time you are at a Whale game, remember that not all of the Amazings on the ice have NWHL unis on. Some are wearing the uniform of the third team out there, the striped shirts, and some orange headbands. Fins Up to recognizing that!