ELMIRA, N.Y. — Miracle. A word that can be interpreted many different ways by various people, but to the hockey world, that word can only be associated with what transpired at Lake Placid, New York, during the 1980 Winter Olympics: The Miracle on Ice.
Fast-forward 41 years later, and Lake Placid will once again be the stage for another historical hockey moment as the National Women’s Hockey League (NWHL), in partnership with USA Hockey and the New York State Olympic Regional Development Authority (ORDA), will feature a 10-person all-female officiating crew for an abbreviated 2021 season and Isobel Cup playoffs at the historic Herb Brooks Arena. Of the 10-person crew, Elmira College will be represented by former women’s ice hockey standout Jamie Huntley-Park ’09.
The all-female officiating crew is a historic moment for professional hockey. According to the NWHL, “while the league has had all-female officiating crews work games before, there has never been an all-female officiating initiative of this scale.”
A 10-year officiating veteran, Jamie has traveled the globe working some of the world’s best women’s hockey games. She’s officiated multiple International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) games and has served as an official for the NWHL since the league’s inception in 2015. Now, Jamie will add this momentous experience to her long list of hockey accomplishments.
“It is pretty amazing to see the growth of women’s hockey over the years,” said Jamie. “When I saw there was going to be an all-female officiating crew to work the NWHL season, I was pretty blown away. I am particularly excited to be a part of such an amazing group of female officials.”
Although she’s officiated significant games throughout her career, this experience will certainly be unlike any other. In order to protect players, coaches, staff and officials from the threats of COVID-19, Jamie, along with the nine other female officials and six NWHL teams, will head inside the NWHL “bubble” in Lake Placid for a slew of games over a 12-day period from January 25 through February 5.
“I know all of the officials attending this season and have been fortunate to work with a majority of them in the past,” added Jamie. “There are three girls that I would call family. That is how close we all are.
“Jackie Spresser, Kendall Hanley and Alicia Hanrahan are my go-to girls with just about anything, whether hockey related or not. We talk just about every day and they have been such great friends, mentors and sisters to me. I have known them for almost my entire officiating career and Kendall was my teammate in college.”
Jamie, along with fellow officials, will depart their homes on January 21 for Lake Placid. For Jamie, she will make a cross-country flight from San Diego, California, where she works as a detective for the San Diego Police Department.
In a normal year, balancing duties as a detective and a hockey official is challenging enough, but adding COVID-19 restrictions into the mix has certainly complicated matters for the native Californian.
Preparation for officials under COVID-19 restrictions has been a challenge, and Jamie has not been immune to such obstacles. In Southern California, there are no hockey games taking place and games haven’t happened in the area in several months, so on-ice preparation has been sparse.
However, Jamie has found ways to stay ready for this officiating opportunity.
“Most of my preparation has been staying in shape off the ice and the occasional opportunity to skate on my own to be comfortable on my skates,” said Jamie. “I’ve been dialing in on my rule knowledge for the specific league, eating healthy and getting rest. When I get there, I will do what I can in my hotel room to get rid of the jet lag and continue to review the rules.”
As has been the case in other professional sports that have implemented similar “bubble” environments, the players, coaches, staff members and officials will sacrifice time away from their families, while others will see an extended break from their current place of employment. Yet, the sacrifice of all those involved will go towards the greater good of enhancing the profile of the NWHL, the sport of women’s hockey, and maybe more importantly, women’s sports in general.
A statement released by the NWHL on December 22, 2020, announced that the Isobel Cup Semifinals and Final will air live exclusively on NBCSN on February 4-5. The significance of this broadcast cannot be understated, as it will serve as the first-ever women’s professional hockey games to be televised on a major national network in the United States.
“It is a big opportunity for these talented athletes to show everyone just how great women’s sports, in particular hockey, really is,” stated Jamie. “It allows all those fans who can’t attend the games to be able to enjoy the semifinals and finals as well. I believe this is one step in the right direction for this professional league and women’s sports in general.
“It will continue to grow like it has been, and the more eyes on the sport and athletes, it will continue to grow whether it is fans or kids wanting to play hockey.”
NWHL’s exposure on a major national network will certainly be a defining moment for women’s hockey, and Jamie will play a significant role in the league’s ability to pull off such an endeavor. Over the 12-day span, she will find herself officiating big games and in high-pressure situations, but that is nothing new to her.
Throughout her hockey career, Jamie has been in the spotlight. During her tenure with the Soaring Eagles, she helped the Purple and Gold qualify for three NCAA Division III Tournaments and clinch back-to-back ECAC West titles.
Where the lights shine the brightest, she’s skated. Jamie was part of the 2008 NCAA third-place team and assisted on a go-ahead goal for EC in the 2009 NCAA national title game, one that ended in a runner-up finish for the Elmira women. That season, she was voted as an ECAC West All-Conference Second Team recipient, as she graduated with 79 career points on 40 goals and 39 assists.
As an official, Jamie has a wealth of experience in big games, including on the international stage. In 2019, she served as an official at the IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship in Espoo, Finland. She officiated a bevy of contests, including the Bronze Medal matchup between Canada and Russia.
Even with a multitude of accomplishments on the ice, serving as an official for the 2021 NWHL season and playoffs will certainly be a special moment in her journey through the hockey world.
“I would say this is one of the most significant moments in my hockey career,” said Jamie. “This is history being made for the sport, for these athletes, and it is a special moment to be a part of.”
Historic is a common theme throughout Jamie’s story. It’s a phrase overused in sports all the time, yet historic doesn’t seem to fully encompass the significance of what is taking place at Lake Placid in less than a week.
So, to all the NWHL players, coaches, staff members, and yes, even the officials that will take part in this momentous event, remember the encouraging words from legendary Team USA head coach Herb Brooks prior to the miracle on ice.
“Great moments are born from great opportunity.
And that’s what you have here, that’s what you’ve earned here…
This is your time.”