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Officiating Awards

Congrats to all the HEO Officials that won the following awards.

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Victoria Ozimkowski

Hockey Eastern Ontario sat down with HEO Official, Victoria Ozimkowski to ask about her journey to officiating the top levels of hockey in the branch.

Tell us how you got involved in officiating.
It was 2004, I was barely 13 years old, and had just been cut by the last competitive hockey team I could try out for that season. I was looking for a way to spend more time on the ice – I was used to at least 4 nights a week at the rink, plus my skating wasn’t the best at the time so any opportunity to skate would only help! I originally signed up for a first year officials clinic with the OWHA, but once I finished my clinic, I learned that since I wasn’t turning 14 that year, I was too young. Fortunately, my older brother Robert had already been officiating with ODMHA’s District 8 (now part of HEO’s Bytown District) for a couple years, and knew they would accept officials as young as 12. Robert helped me get in touch with the district RIC at the time, George Olmstead, who welcomed me with open arms, and I’ve been wearing the stripes ever since. I did return to the OWHA once I was older, and as a result I now have the opportunity to work high levels of both male and female hockey today.

You were the first female in HEO to officiate at the junior level, what’s that experience been like?
When I began to officiate junior hockey in 2015, I’ll admit, there certainly were some tough moments and learning curves, largely for me, but also for those in the junior hockey community. A lot of coaches, players, and spectators had never seen a female officiate at high levels of male hockey, so there were times where I was challenged when entering an arena or first stepping on the ice for a game. I’ve learned to just laugh and shake my head when someone asked who’s bag I’m carrying, try to charge me admission to a game I’m officiating, or tell me that I must be lost, but it was definitely a bit unsettling in the beginning.

That being said, the experience so far has been overwhelmingly positive. There is so much support from the HEO community, and especially from my fellow officials. They make me feel like “just another ref” in the best way possible, where I was being supported both on and off the ice by my fellow officials the same way they would support any other referee. Not because I’m female, but because I’m doing the job just like they are. I’m so grateful to all the people who pushed me, challenged me, and helped me fight for me the opportunity to earn (and continue to earn) my place in junior hockey.

With regards to the game itself, officiating at a high performance level involves never really knowing what’s going to happen over the course of 60 minutes. You’re practically guaranteed to be challenged and to learn something new by the time each game ends, and that is something I absolutely love about officiating junior hockey. It keeps pushing you, and knowing the skill and the work ethic involved for the players at that level keeps you motivated to keep working hard. No matter how good you think you are, there are always opportunities to improve.

I do have to share one little story from a couple of years ago. After a Junior B game I was refereeing, a spectator approached me with his young (5-6 year old) daughter. She wanted to give me a high five after the game, and after she scampered away, he told me that game was the first time his daughter had actually watched her older brother’s game for more than 5 minutes instead of just running wild, and that it was because there was “a girl out there with the big boys!” She wasn’t watching her brother, she was watching ME. I’ve always officiated hockey because I love being on the ice and being a part of the game, but that little girl and her dad reminded me that you never know who’s watching and who might get inspired by you just for doing what you love.

You were selected to officiate in the U17 Capital City Challenge, a tournament featuring Canada’s National Women’s Team and three national men’s under-17 teams. What was that experience like?
The Capital City Challenge was probably the most unique event Hockey Canada has ever held. Having elite male and female players competing against one another is very rare, especially as a competitive tournament. With the additional element of body checking vs non-checking, depending on the teams playing in any given game, it was a challenge for everyone involved. We were a small, mixed crew of officials from across Canada, each with different backgrounds and experiences, so we all brought something unique to the group. Any time you get invited to a tournament or event, it’s a huge honour, but the fact that it was here in Ottawa made it even more special because I was able to have family and friends in attendance most games. And yes, sharing the ice with the National Women’s Team as they were preparing for the Olympics was a thrill!

What is the most memorable game you’ve officiated?
I’ll be honest, I’m struggling to choose just one game. I’ve been so fortunate to have officiated so many special games and attend numerous special events, including 2 Arctic Winter Games, 2 National Aboriginal Championships, a Women’s Under-18 Nationals, Telus Cup Central Regionals, an International Blind Hockey Showcase, and more.

That being said, there are 2 games which truly stand out in my mind. The first is from the 2009 Mac’s Cup in Calgary, Alberta. The ODMHA selected me to represent the branch at this event between Christmas and New Years, and after a week of hard work and great hockey, I was selected to referee the female final at the Calgary Saddledome. This was the first time I travelled for hockey, the first tournament of any importance I ever worked, and knowing I had earned my place in the final was incredible. Officiating that game made me believe for the first time that maybe, just maybe, I was good at this, and should see just how far I can go.

The second game that is very memorable for me is the first regular season Junior A game I refereed. It was during their start of year showcase, so I had a lot of my fellow officials around to watch and support me. My parents had been on a 3+ month long road trips, and managed to time their arrival back in Ottawa just in time to catch the National Anthem at the start of that game (with the canoe still on the roof of their car, no less!). There were so many times on the journey to that point where I was told there was no way I or any other female would get there, so that first official game was a huge accomplishment that I’m glad I got to share with some of the people who’ve always supported me.

I hope there are still more memorable games for me in the future, but I know those games will always be a big part of my officiating story.

What advice would you give to someone looking to get started in officiating?
Honestly, just start! I’ve helped out a lot with incoming officials in the Bytown District, and there are a hundred different reasons why new officials register. The one thing everyone has in common is they all have a good reason to be there, and they actually followed through. It doesn’t matter whether you start off like me and just wanted to skate more, or you have kids that aged out of minor hockey and you want to find a reason to still be at the rink, or you never had anything to do with hockey except yelling at the referees on TV and finally decided to try it for yourself. Once you do that, keep officiating for as long as you love it. Remember, hockey is supposed to be fun.

One word of wisdom for officials at all levels that I’d love to share is to remember that for every game, the players on the ice are playing at their highest level at that moment, no matter if it’s a house league game or a national championship. Respect the effort they display and the passion they have for the game, and do everything possible to display that same effort and passion every time you set foot on the ice, and everyone involved will be better off for it.

This hockey season saw a surge in females officiating at higher levels of hockey, with 10 officials being selected to work in the American Hockey League and numerous others in the Canadian Hockey League. Do you think we will ever see a female officiate in the NHL?
I am so excited to see some female officials earning their spots in these elite leagues, and I do believe that eventually we will see a female official in the NHL. There has been more and more recognition of the fact that ability is what matters. Regardless of gender, if you have the necessary skillset for the job, you should have the opportunity to earn it, and I look forward to seeing where things progress from here.

HEO would like to wish Victoria the best of luck as she heads to Prince Edward Island to officiate the 2022 U Sports Women’s Hockey Championship March 24-27!


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