Sask. woman makes history as first female linesperson in the WHL

Linesperson Alex Clarke participating in a pre-season game between the Moose Jaw Warriors and Regina Pats at Mosaic Place. (Claire Hanna/CTV News)

Weyburn product Alex Clarke is set to make Western Hockey League history this season.

Since the WHL was founded in 1966, men have always been tasked with officiating roles. This season, Clarke will become the first female to be a linesperson in the Canadian Hockey League.

“I was hoping for that opportunity this season, so it wasn’t a shock but I was very excited that it was actually going to come my direction,” Clarke said.

Clarke found out she was being given regular WHL assignments in July. The 28-year-old began reffing hockey games in Saskatchewan in 2017.

On Sep. 24, she skated in her first pre-season WHL game between the Moose Jaw Warriors and the Regina Pats.

“The game is the same, the puck feels the same and I could feel the support from everybody, which was different than I normally feel as a ref on the ice,” Clarke laughed.

She pursued being a linesperson after hockey career. Clarke was the captain of the College of St. Scholastica’s NCAA Division 3 hockey program. Shortly after graduating, she was drafted by the Calgary Inferno in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League, but was forced into early retirement following a knee injury. Since then, she’s been a linesperson in almost 300 games in Saskatchewan.

“You have to work up through different leagues to get there, you can’t just go from reffing female Midget AAA hockey into the WHL,” Clarke said.

During last Friday’s pre-season game, many fans came to watch and support Clarke. Her friend and co-worker Curtis O’Reilly was one of them.

“I think equality is super important. I think it’s kind of ridiculous that this has taken this long for a female to get a shot like that,” O’Reilly said.

The Warriors even announced the historical moment on the loud speaker to the crowd at Mosaic Place.

“I didn’t expect that many people to be in my corner or cheering me on,” Clarke admitted.

Regina Pats head coach Dave Struch said he called Kevin Muench, the WHL’s senior director of officiating, following the game to remark on how good Clarke was.

“There was no difference. I commend her for it, it’s pretty brave to do something like that and be a part of this world,” Struch said.

Clarke said she hasn’t met any officials or hockey personnel who have ever discouraged her. One of her roles as a linesperson is to break up fights. At 5 foot 11, getting involved doesn’t intimidate her.

“I don’t go unnoticed amongst the men. I can get in there and get between guys and they know I’m there. I have no problem getting in there,” Clarke said.

Clarke isn’t sure why she’s the first female to break down this barrier, but says she only started to notice other female officials at other levels of the game over the last five years.

“It’s unfortunate that it’s taken this long but I also give merit to the fact that we have to be on the ice involved in the play and you have to be able to keep up with the speed of the hockey,” Clarke said.

Clarke has a two-year-old daughter, Prairie. She also has a full-time job with Farm Credit Canada. She wasn’t sure she could juggle work, parenthood and being a linesperson. However, while watching Olympic Gold medalist Meaghan Mikkelson at an international competition, she noticed the Team Canada defensewoman skating with her son at the end of the game. Seeing Mikkelson balance motherhood while competing at the highest level encouraged Clarke.

“That was the ah-ha moment for me, where it’s like, women can have a family and still pursue their dreams,” Clarke said.

Now, the next generation of women has somebody to look up to.