Officials Jestina Vichorek, Sara Strong and Chelsea Rapin were understandably disappointed when the IIHF Women’s World Championship was postponed last spring because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
But the trio didn’t hesitate to accept an assignment when they were asked to work the Chipotle-USA Hockey Girls National Championships in West Chester, Pennsylvania after the initial postponement of the world championships.
“We were so close to leaving that we didn’t think it was even a possibility to have the tournament canceled again,” Strong said. “We received an email from USA Hockey within a few hours, asking us to work the National Championships instead and I didn’t even think twice. I just wanted to get on the ice and skate.”
Fast forward to a few months later and those same three officials — Vichorek, Strong and Rapin — are currently in Calgary, now getting their chances to work the Women’s World Championship.
“I am really excited to be able to represent the USA Hockey officiating program at the Women’s World Championships,” Rapin said. “It is such a unique opportunity and I am really proud to be officiating at this event.”
Rapin, a Walled Lake, Michigan, native, played college hockey at Vermont and high school hockey with Michigan-based Little Caesars. She previously played in the Under-19 USA Hockey Nationals championship game and had the opportunity to officiate the event 15 years later.
“I remember playing in the final championship and how big of an experience that was,” Rapin said. “But now officiating those games is even more special. It’s really inspirational seeing just how far girls and women’s hockey has progressed in the past 15 years.”
Vichorek’s father has been a hockey official for more than 30 years. After she graduated college, he talked his daughter into trying it out.
“My full-time job at the time right out of college wasn’t enough to support my loan debt obligation and other necessities, and officiating hockey was initially just that buffer that helped me get by as a young adult,” Vichorek said. “Much to my surprise, I really enjoyed officiating hockey and picked it up rather quickly.”
Vichorek was encouraged to attend a Summer Officiating Development Camp. That’s where she learned of potential opportunities, including officiating the Olympic Winter Games, which has become an ultimate goal and inspired her to continue.
“The No. 1 motivator for me is my daughter,” Vichorek said. “She’s watching me, she sees me putting in the work every day and I want her to know and to see first-hand that you can make your goals and your dreams a reality. Second, is because I love hockey and I love officiating. The final motivator is because officiating hockey has opened so many doors for me, both personally and professionally.”
Strong became involved in officiating after she stopped playing hockey in college. After her first national championship event in 2011, she was hooked.
“I started taking training seriously and looked for opportunities to get better and continue to skate higher level hockey,” Strong said. “I was very oblivious to the opportunities that were out there for officials, especially female officials. My motivation is currently to be the best official I can be at the World Championship. After this tournament is over, I will re-evaluate my goals to see what changes I need to make to get me to my ultimate goal of making the Olympic Games.”
Rapin started officiating while playing in college.
“I decided to pick up a part-time job to start paying for my graduate studies and I was amazed at how many opportunities there were for female officials,” Rapin said. “After graduating and starting my career as a physical therapist, I continued to attend development camps and participate in other officiating opportunities such as collegiate games and pro women’s hockey leagues.”
All three advise young officials to try officiating, noting that it’s a great way to earn extra money, stay involved in the game, earn important life skills and gain unparalleled personal and professional experiences.
“I always tell people that it’s the best part-time job in the world,” Strong said. “I’ve met some of my best friends through officiating and have been so fortunate to be able to travel the world officiating hockey. Not only has it been an amazing opportunity, it has also helped me in my career with my life. For anyone thinking about signing up, I say, just do it! Have fun with it, stick it out with your first couple years and the opportunities could be limitless!”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.