The NWHL welcomes an all-female referee corps with a knack for justice.
By Alex Holmes
When the NWHL announced last month that the 2021 season would feature an all-female officiating staff, we knew we’d get a team of top-notch, experienced referees. What we might not have known is that these 10 women are just as talented and impressive off the ice as on it. For a career that requires so much training and travel, one might think that anyone would have their hands full with refereeing ice hockey at the collegiate, domestic and international levels. How about all that plus a Ph.D? And a full-time job? It’s time to get familiar with the ladies who are actually in charge of the historic 2021 NWHL bubble.
Three of the officials are police officers, and their passions for hockey and justice will surely meet in the ice rink. Jackie Spresser serves in the Investigations Division of the Northglenn Police Department. Originally from Thornton, Colorado, Spresser has over a decade of officiating experience, which includes the 2020 IIHF World Championship in Canada.
Jamie Huntley-Park played for Elmira College, graduating with a degree in criminal justice and human services in 2009. Her studies in criminal justice led her to San Diego, where she serves as a police officer for the San Diego Police Department. Her officiating career includes an Olympic qualifier in 2017, two Four Nations Cup tournaments in 2013 and 2017, as well as the 2020 IIHF Division I World Championship in France.
Jacqueline Howard is the final police department member out of the group—and you won’t get much by her. She is a senior crime analyst for the Arlington County P.D. Howard’s road to becoming a detective features a Ph.D in public administration and a brief stint teaching as an adjunct professor at George Mason. She brings over 15 years of officiating experience with USA Hockey and has been refereeing NCAA games since 2012.
Several members of the NWHL referee team have already re-written officiating record books. Kendall Hanley was one of the first four female referees in NHL preseason tournament history in September 2019. Her refereeing accomplishments led her to the IIHF, where she was on the officiating team for the 2020 U18 Women’s World Championship in Slovakia. The North Carolina native also played for Elmira College before finishing her successful collegiate career with Oswego State. A former left-handed forward, Hanley brings officiating experience from the NCAA Division I and III levels.
She is joined by Amanda Tassoni, who was part of the 2019 Frozen Four officiating team, which was the first time the national championship’s referees were all women. In her college days, Tassoni amassed 72 points in 100 games played. After graduating in 2011, she earned a master’s degree in kinesiology. Tassoni also has experience as a fitness and health coordinator with the YMCA and Verizon.
The state of New York will be well represented among the officiating team. Laura White of Runnemede, who captained the Robert Morris University women’s ice hockey team, began her career with USA Hockey in 2014. She was an official at the 2020 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship for Division III in Bulgaria. White is joined by Mackenzie Welter of Rome, New York. She was part of the officiating team at last year’s IIHF U18 Division I World Championship in Germany. Welter officiated the USA-Canada Rivalry series during 2019-2020. In 2011, she was invited to a USA Hockey Women’s Regional Camp, which launched her officiating career in partnership with the federation. She also brings experience at the highest level of collegiate hockey with several Frozen Four championships under her belt.
Minnesota also has two women representing the state. Alicia Hanrahan boasts officiating experience at all levels of ice hockey, from high school to the international scene. The Minnesota native officiated three NWHL playoffs (2016, 2019, 2020). She also has experience on the Olympic circuit as a referee at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. At the collegiate level, she officiated the 2009 and 2010 national championships. Hanrahan is very involved in her community, serving as a volunteer with the White Bear Emergency Food Shelf, Meals & Wheels, and Feed My Starving Children. Sarah Buckner joins the group and also adds her own IIHF officiating experience. The Minnesota native refereed at the U18 Women’s World Championship Division II in Mexico last year.
The final referee, Erika Greenen of Naperville, Illinois, graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point in 2013, where she played for the school’s varsity ice hockey team. She wasn’t quite ready to hang up her skates for good after graduation, and began officiating for USA Hockey in 2014. Among notable events on her officiating resume, Greenen was a 2020 IIHF Division II World Championship referee. Aside from being an ice hockey official, Greenen is also a senior health coach.
History will be made this weekend in Lake Placid, marking the first time an all-female officiating crew will run an event of this scale. From health coaching to crime-busting, this might be the most well-rounded group of officials you have met.
To see these referees in action, tune into the NWHL season beginning January 23 and running through February 5.