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Endangered species
Number of hockey zebras at dangerously low levels

Darrell Greer
Northern News Services
Published Wednesday, March 13, 2013

A severe shortage of hockey officials in Nunavut is a problem that has to be addressed now, said the president of Hockey Nunavut.

NNSL photo/graphic

Referees discuss a rule point before the start of a game at the Nunavut midget territorial in Arviat this past month. - photo courtesy of Pierre Ikakhik

Darrin Nichol said the problem has been building for a number of years with a steady decline in the number of people willing to officiate.

He said out-of-town officials are a stop-gap solution, but not the answer to the problem.

"The shortage of refs is, potentially, headed to a crisis situation here and it's threatening the game of hockey at various levels," said Nichol.

"The cost of bringing in officials for senior men's hockey is the responsibility of the organizing committees.

"At the minor level, if there's no local, regional or zone referees available, then clearly we have to look outside and that means a certain amount of money has to come from a tournament's budget to cover that additional cost."

Nichol said every person within the Hockey Nunavut zone and the Hockey North branch acknowledges there's a problem.

He said steps have to be taken during the coming years to increase the number of people willing to be certified, but it won't be easy.

"Being a hockey official is not for everyone.

"There's a lot of pressure in small communities, be it from players, friends or even family members.

"Some communities are better than others, but it's not uncommon for a referee to hear about a call they made, or missed, while they're at the Northern store or whatever.

"But, at the same time, people have to realize there is no hockey without refs and it's as simple as that."

Nichol said a draft of Hockey Nunavut's 2013-14 budget has been completed and will be taken to its board members in the near future.

He said dollars have been allocated to train and certify officials.

"We're not just talking about it. We are going to put dollars towards it.

"We don't have, as yet, what I would call a formal plan, but we're working on it.

"We're working with our zone referee-in-chief, Rob Kavanaugh, and he has some interesting ideas on how we begin with this.

"We have to start somewhere, so we're looking to move on it this year."

Nichol said Hockey Nunavut is going to need the support of local minor hockey associations (MHA) across the territory if it's going to address the problem.

He said one way area MHAs can help is to structure their programs to actually allow new referees to officiate, even if that means holding mixed-squad games on a Saturday or Sunday.

"Bringing in out-of-town referees is not new, but we're relying on it more and more to cover our tournaments and territorial events.

"Having said that, there's also a heck of a lot of hockey being played right now.

"There's been more hockey played in all three of our regions during the past few years than, arguably, any time in our past.

"Refereeing is a difficult task and I understand why a lot of people don't want to do it, but, again, there has to be a recognition by everybody in hockey at all levels that you don't play without a referee."

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