St. Albert hockey referee Lacey Senuk dropped the first puck at the first Professional Women's Hockey League game (PWHL) at Toronto's Mattamy Athletic Centre on Jan. 1.
“I had to make a phone call and ask very kindly if they could remove me from a (different) game, but it was a huge honour to be a part of this," Senuk said.
With a sold-out crowd of 2, 537 and about 2.9 million people watching on television, according to a CBC article, Senuk admits the nerves she felt from the players, officials, and herself.
“There were nerves, but the first call you make, the first time you blow your whistle, you’re like, ‘Oh, it’s all gone.’ Because then you’re now playing hockey. You know what you’re doing.”
Senuk said she has officiated games in past female hockey leagues like the PHF, PWHPA, CWHL and NWHL. But she feels the PWHL will be different, as it marks a new beginning for professional female hockey.
“It’s like what I said to the players, to the two setters: ‘Let’s make history.’ Because that’s exactly what it was, right? It was a new era and new chapter of professional women’s hockey.”
The referee, who cut her teeth reffing in St. Albert, said she had fun at the monumental game she describes as an evolution to female hockey, and it has been a “long time coming” to be officiating a pro-female hockey league.
Senuk described how she became a referee, which started with playing hockey when she was young, "like every Canadian kid." She loved the sport so much that when she finished high school, she was introduced to refereeing by fellow female players, who told her she would be good at it.
“When you stop playing, there’s kind of that sort of emptiness like, ‘How do you stay involved?’ There’s people that go into coaching; there’s people that go into the athletic side of things. And I chose to go into the officiating side,” Senuk said. “I was good at spending time in the penalty box, so they probably weren’t wrong.”
Senuk has been refereeing games for 15 years, and said the majority of her games within St. Albert and Edmonton were in the male leagues because of the lack of female hockey in Alberta. Being a female referee is no different than being a female hockey player in Alberta.
“You definitely have their doubts the first time you step onto the ice, and they see a ponytail,” Senuk said. “They say like, ‘Oh, it’s a female,’ like, ‘Oh, great.’ But a couple shifts into the game, a couple calls into the game, they change their tune. They’re like, ‘Oh, nope, never mind; knows what she’s doing. We’re good.’”
From officiating games in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) as she does currently, to working the 2022 winter Olympics in Beijing, Senuk’s refereeing career has allowed her to travel the world. She said it would not have been possible without the St. Albert Minor Hockey Referees Association and referee in chief Joe Becigneul.
“If it wasn’t for that association, who knows what would have happened?" Senuk said. "Everything has been a huge honour and I’ve been super pumped and proud to be a part of it.”