Lieffers levels up

Cianna Lieffers surveys the rink at the Art Hauser Centre in Prince Albert during a stoppage in play while officiating a Midget AAA Hockey League game in January 2018. -- Evan Radford/Daily Herald

Local referee earns country’s highest certification

Cianna Lieffers can now count herself among an elite group of female hockey referees in Canada.

The 23-year-old has earned a Level 5 certification, the highest level of certification in Canada that a female hockey official can obtain. She’s only the third woman in the country to have that status, and the second in Saskatchewan.

(Saskatoon’s Michelle Stapleton was the first Saskatchewanian to earn the distinction.)

After rigorous testing – on and off the ice – in late November, the 12th-year referee had to wait until early January to hear of her result.

“It was awesome. It was definitely cool,” she said of learning of her accomplishment.

Now 23 years old and living Saskatoon, Lieffers grew up in Cudworth, Sask., just south of Wakaw. At 11 years old, she followed the footsteps of her two older brothers and tried her hand at officiating.

She soon made her way to the Prince Albert Minor Hockey Association, where she cut her teeth officiating hockey games in P.A.

The Level 5 certification testing was held by Hockey Canada this past November in Moncton, N.B.

“It was a combination of a written exam, two on-ice evaluations, and physical off-ice testing, as well as skating testing that we had to do in order to pass,” she said.

The wait, she said, was due to the grading of her written exam, something that all of the participants at the camp had to wait on.

“There were 10 women from Canada that came to the camp, and then we had two delegates from Europe that came over as well.

“We have one of the strongest programs, so we bring them (European officials) over to just experience what we have here,” she said.

Her on-ice testing involved officiating two U-Sports women’s hockey games: A Nov. 22 St. Francis Xavier 3-0 win over Saint Mary’s, and a 3-2 win for the University of Prince Edward Island over Dalhousie.

The St. FX versus Saint Mary’s game looked to be a rough one.

Lieffers had to call a double minor spearing penalty on a Saint Mary’s player in the third period as well as an unsportsmanlike conduct infraction on the same team in the second period.

Locally in P.A., it’s not hard to see why her colleagues speak highly of her demeanour and her character, on and off the ice.

During a P.A. Mintos game against the Moose Jaw Generals in January, she had to deal with a surly Generals coach.

After a period in which the Moose Jaw coach spontaneously shouted a series of curses at the Mintos’ coaching staff, he sought out Lieffers’ explanation for why one of his players was ejected from the game; she was officiating the contest.

The coach aggressively stood with one foot on the ice with his bench’s gate open.

Lieffers kept her cool, offered a professional smile and politely asked the coach to step back onto the General’s bench.

He obliged.

Off the ice, she’s always willing to stop and chat for a quick interview about hockey officiating as it relates to women and men in the sport.

“Level 5 just became a thing for females to get about three years ago. It’s relatively new. In Saskatchewan, I’m the second one (to get it); the first one was Michelle Stapleton three years ago.

“She was one of the first to get selected.”

She’s also big on giving back to her community.

“I went to the Sask. First program that we have. It’s kind of a developmental camp; we use it for our referees.

“I was a supervisor there, and that allowed me to kind of give back. We have a lot of great talent coming up. It’s just a matter getting them to the next step, and getting them more hockey.”

There’s also no shortage of youth looking to chat with her before and after games.

“When I go and work the (Saskatchewan Junior Hockey Leauge) games, there’s always young kids who see me warming up, or after the game who will come and talk,” she said.

As of right now, as per Hockey Canada regulations, Level 5 is the highest certification a female hockey referee can obtain. Male referees can earn up to Level 6.

Accrding to the Hockey Canada website, Level 5 allows a referee to officiate major junior (i.e. Western Hockey League), junior A (i.e. SJHL), senior and U-Sports games, both regular season and postseason play.

Level 6 goes further and allows a referee to officiate national championship games, like the Memorial Cup and the RBC Cup, and designated International Ice Hockey Federation games, like those played at the Olympics and the annual World Junior Hockey Championships.

Asked her thoughts about women being allowed to obtain a Level 6 certification, Lieffers said, “I think one day, with the direction sports are moving, one day it will be possible. I don’t know how soon in the future that is, just because Levle 5 just became a thing recently, three years ago. Hopefully soon one day.”

Personally, she said she wants to keep working and earn a spot as a hockey official at the Olympics.

“That’s always the end-goal. I mean to get there you’re going to have to start working more international tournaments, and obviously moving up the latter that way with all the different divisions.”