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Four Nations Officials Also Dream of Olympics

11/07/2013, 10:45am EST
By Cameron Eickmeyer - USAHockey.com

LAKE PLACID, N.Y. - The nerves kick in for Jamie Huntley before coming to the rink and pre-game rituals help settle anxiety as the seconds tick down to puck drop.

She knows every stride and shift will be evaluated and she takes every moment seriously. Everything about Huntley's on-ice experience here for the 2013 Four Nations Cup mirrors that for the players, but she isn't representing a team. She's one of seven officials who are, like the players, hoping to be noticed and picked for games at the tournaments like the Olympics.

"Throughout the season we all get invited to events," she said. "You learn the process to get to places like this and then the IIHF and the Olympics are the ultimate goal."

Huntley called her first international game at this tournament and said she was nervous before the faceoff.

"I had quite a bit of nerves but I had some great officials with me who calmed me down and talked me through everything," she said.

The officials for the tournament are Huntley and fellow Americans Alicia Hanrahan, Laura Johnson, Kendall Hanley and Kate Connolly as well as Switzerland's Anna Eskola and France's Marie Picavet.

Matt Leaf, director of officiating with USA Hockey and serving as an International Ice Hockey Federation representative, is part of the team who selects officials for the biggest international hockey games. Events like this week's tournament are a chance to evaluate officials to help select the best.

"This is an opportunity for them to showcase their skillset and their preparation heading into Sochi," Leaf said. "At the same time it gives us an opportunity to give some officials from the next generation a chance to gain some experience at this level with the top women's hockey in the world."

It's somewhat backwards that a role in hockey that is best when not noticed is watched by someone who will notice everything.

"I treat every game as if someone is watching," Huntley said.

Like the players, the officials have meetings and review their performances to be better in the next game. Huntley said it's the same pursuit of excellence that players and coaches hold dear.

"It's the game we love and we want to be part of it as well," she said.

And just like the players and coaches with whom they share the ice, officials can make mistakes. They have to, according to Huntley, file away the error and use to improve. The goal, after all, is to advance up the ladder in hockey by learning and becoming the best official possible.

"If you have a bad game you wonder if you blew your chance but you take the evaluation you get from your supervisor and the things he's told you and take it to the next game," she said.

Eskola pointed out that she takes the game just as serious as a player and said that in the same way a goaltender can't overthink a save, an official has to allow the game to happen.

"It's about the players, it's not about me," she said. "The less you think about it the better. If you put yourself under a lot of pressure to not mess up, you are bound to mess up."

Some fans might also not know that officials circle the same tournaments and big games on their calendars as goals for their careers.

"If you continue to improve on those things you will keep climbing the ranks and getting to where you want to be," Huntley said.

Leaf said USA Hockey and the IIHF are always watching tournaments, development camps and exhibitions to find the most capable officials to call games like February's 2014 Sochi Olympic Winter Games gold medal games.

"(Evaluation) provides them an opportunity to showcase skills and gain the necessary experience to take the next step," Leaf said.

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Tag(s): Officials  Four Nations  2013 Women's 4 Nations