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Club Stripes

By USA Hockey, 03/24/17, 11:00AM MDT


American Collegiate Hockey Association national tournaments provide opportunities for officials at every level

Hockey players often have college hockey dreams; a want to don a university sweater and head to a national championship game.

There are plenty of officials with the same type of aspirations; a want to don the black and white stripes while overseeing a national championship tournament.

While college hockey dreams usually entail NCAA Division I hopes, it’s not the only option. The American Collegiate Hockey Association is another route that offers experience, competition and growing opportunities for players and officials alike.

Founded in 1991, the ACHA is home to 51 non-varsity Division I men’s programs and 23 non-varsity Division I women’s programs across the nation. In addition, the ACHA houses Division II and Division III programs for both men and women, totaling more than 450 Division I, II, III programs in the United States.

As the NCAA holds conference and national tournaments each March to conclude the season, so too does the ACHA. For Megan Mackenzie, officials supervisor of the 2017 ACHA women’s national tournament, and Dan Monocelli, officials supervisor of the 2017 ACHA men’s national tournament, it provides an opportunity to extend tournament experience to officials of all levels.

“At this year’s tournament [March 15-19], we had such a mix of officials,” said Mackenzie, who began officiating at the age of 14. “We had a number of IIHF-licensed officials, some who worked the IIHF U-18 World Championship and other international games or tournaments. And we have some that are just starting out.

“It’s that balance that makes it a great opportunity for all officials involved.”

Monocelli adds that it’s the officials who are “just starting out” that reap the most benefits.

“We have officials from the grassroots level, to the more experienced officials working the tournament,” he said. “We’re using full-time officials from the North American Hockey League, the East Coast league and even some professional levels, all the way down to the grassroots.

“The grassroots guys coming in benefit a lot from working with more experienced officials and working in fast-paced tournament games.”

Jacqueline Zee-Howard is one of those grassroots officials who has developed thanks to her ACHA tournament experiences.

Zee-Howard started officiating at 24—not even learning to skate until 22. Working nearly every level from 10U on up for the past eight years, she has worked the ACHA Division I women’s tournament the past three. This year was her first time working in the championship game.

“It was super intense,” said Zee-Howard, a Texas native. “You sweat triple the amount. Usually you sweat, but then you’re being watched by [Mackenzie], so you’ve got some (added) nerves. Plus you have the coaches and fans and just the pressure of the championship game, so it’s a lot.

“But it’s also a lot of fun and there’s a lot to learn from being out there.”
Zee-Howard adds that every game in the tournament is competitive, fast and skilled.

“It’s a lot of fun to be a part of,” she said. “The feedback you get is so helpful in pursuing your officiating career. I didn’t even know this could be a career when I first started.”

It’s why Mackenzie and Monocelli, along with USA Hockey, compliment the ACHA for the opportunity it’s providing to their officials.

“It’s easy to referee a Sunday-morning 14U game. It’s sort of like a walk in the park,” Mackenzie said. “But when you add pressure to a game and you add feedback, the pressure on the official is magnified. And if these people go out and perform and call a very good game, it’s very rewarding.”

“It benefits officials from a game standpoint,” Monocelli adds. “The more games you work, the better you’re going to get. You’re around the more veteran officials [at this tournament] so you can pick their brains, too. We have supervisors, so you’re going to get a lot of information from your peers you work with.

“It’s just a great opportunity for every official.”