Feature image provided by Armando Tura/APShutter.com
The OUA, Canada West and Atlantic University Field Hockey Championships all took place over the last month and the U SPORTS Championships are happening this week. While it is well-known that the university hockey environment is a hotbed for athlete development in Canada, it’s also an opportunity for officials to umpire at a high level and get all-important domestic experience.
Megan Robertson, a Vancouver-based umpire has been involved in the game for over 20 years. She grew up playing for Burnaby Lake Field Hockey Club and still plays in the Vancouver Lower Mainland Div-3 today, but it’s on the officiating side that she’s pushed her game to the next level. Robertson officiates at the club, university, national and international level. She made her international debut at the Junior Pan American Games in 2012 and reached the 50-cap mark at the 2019 Pan Am Games in Lima.
Megan Robertson got her 50th international cap in Lima at the 2019 Pan Am Games. Photos/Yan Huckendubler
She has been umpiring in the Canada West university hockey and U SPORTS (formally CIS) since 2006. She remembers that year, she flew to Edmonton to umpire field hockey. She identified that as a defining moment in her umpiring career.
“It was the first time I had gotten on a plane to fly somewhere to umpire field hockey,” Robertson said. “At the university level, the game means everything to the athletes. You can tell it’s a gift and a joy to play the game we love. Especially in this past year, after a year off, getting back into it. It’s really great.”
Robertson, who umpired last month’s Canada West finals, said that having mentors in the community that support your umpiring is a key to getting more umpires involved in the game. In Canada, there aren’t that many opportunities to get quality officiating reps, as such, having people to support growth and give feedback are vital.
“I was fortunate to be in a club that had people I could look up to; too many to name really,” she said. “You get used to seeing them at the fields, and you realize you aren’t alone out there. It makes a big difference.”
Robertson in action, alongside colleagues Tyler Klenk and Chris Wilson, at the 2021 Canada West finals. Photos/Armando Tura
Denise Pelletier, a Kitchener-based umpire has been officiating in Canada since 2005. She is a math and PE teacher who also officiates ringette. She said that experience as a teacher and as an official in a different sport has contributed to her development on field as a hockey umpire.
Pelletier received her Canadian badge in 2010, when she started doing Canadian university hockey games and quickly got her FIH badge the next year in Trinidad and Tobago. She worked the 2014 Youth Olympics in Nanjing and has been to Mexico and Uruguay doing Pan American events and World League events. At this stage in her career, she said she’s more excited about getting into a mentorship role and supporting the growth of umpires in Canada.
“I’m an evaluator for ringette as well, and I think at this point, I’m really looking forward to getting involved as an Umpire Manager and evaluator for field hockey as well. Having that sport background and the teaching background, I think I have a lot to offer.”
Pelletier is still officiating at the OUA level, as she umpired during the 2021 season. Despite injuring her calf after the first half of the season, Pelletier was still awarded OUA Umpire of the Year in the end-of-season awards. She won’t be on the field for this week’s U SPORTS finals, but appreciates being involved at the university level of the game.
UMPIRE OF THE YEAR AWARDS:
Canada West – Tyler Klenk
OUA – Denise Pelletier
AUFHL – Ali Mahmood
“It’s been a hard year for a lot of people. And just being back in the game this year, means a lot to so many people. Just to have sport back,” Pelletier said. “Seeing the passion of these student athletes. Seeing the camaraderie that they develop. I love being out there facilitating the game. And it’s good for me too, it’s therapeutic. You can just focus on the game; it’s good for my mental health.”
Robertson said developing that connection to other officials in the community has made her experience amazing. She identifies the Pan American Games in 2015 on home soil as a highlight of her career.
“As an official, you never get to hear your own anthem played at a tournament,” she said. “So being in Toronto, being in Canada [in 2015], was as close as you get. My parents were able to come and watch me. It was a pretty special moment.”
When it comes to domestic opportunities for officials, there is club and high school hockey, national championships, and university hockey. Robertson said, the longer she officiates hockey, the more she becomes integrated into that community. She has developed on-field chemistry with other Canadian officials.
“I’ve always loved officiating with Gillian Batey. We’ve done Canada west finals together,” Robertson said. “She’s someone who has been umpiring for a long time. She’s someone I really respect, and we work well together. We just have that level of comfort and trust that’s so important in the game.”
Both Pelletier and Robertson identify the need for more officiating opportunities in Canada. They have identified mentorship as being a positive, but the communities need to keep promoting officiating to their younger community members. The Field Hockey Canada Officials Committee is working hard to provide more umpiring and mentorship opportunities.
Trevor Martin, a long-time Toronto-based umpire remembers when he started playing hockey in Canada, there was no choice whether you would officiate or not.
“It was just a part of the league,” he said. “If you were in the top division, you had to umpire the second division games, and so forth. You had to do a service to the club and the community.”
Both Denise Pelletier and Trevor Martin actively ref and mentor in the OUA environment. Photos/Provided.
Throughout his umpiring career, Martin has officiated at the club, high school, university, national and international level. He has noticed a decline in access to club and school hockey. He started umpiring in 1993 and at that point, there was a more defined club structure in Ontario and therefore more opportunities to develop as an official. He remembers learning from FHC Hall of Famers like Marg Lanning and Sumesh Putra in his early days as an official.
“I just think the player pool is a little smaller right now, and we don’t have a singular defined club structure. Now, there are less umpires and a higher expectation and demand on the few that are officiating,” he said. “If we can get more umpires into a clearer pathway, we’ll have more success.”
Martin, Pelletier, and Robertson all agree that access to more hockey is one element that can support the growth of umpiring in Canada. In areas that support university hockey, this is one good avenue that all three have taken. As seen by examining the three careers in this piece, we can also see that having strong mentors can quickly accelerate officiating careers.
The U SPORTS final takes place this week from November 12-14, 2021, in Toronto and will feature the University of Toronto Varsity Blues and the University of Victoria Vikes in a best-of-three series.