“I don’t look where they’re from, I look at what they do,” said minor hockey referee Matthew Stacey.
Stacey doesn’t just referee the sport, he also played for the U18B Mohawks this past season. Over the years he’s felt dissatisfied with the on-ice officiating, citing a bias against Kahnawake held by referees in the region. Stacey decided to become a ref two years ago because he wanted to play an active role in making sure that every team, no matter where they are from, gets the chance to compete fairly.
Of the 65 referees currently working in the Suroit zone, which encompasses Chateauguay, Mercier, Kahnawake, and Ste. Martine, there are just two from Kahnawake. The other is 16-year-old Adam Dailleboust.
“Every year I’m pushing to get more and more kids from in town to join,” said Bob Hurtubise, referee in chief for the Suroit region. “I would like to have at least 10 referees from Kahnawake.”
This past weekend, the Quebec Provincial Hockey Championship, also known as the Chevrolet Cup, was held in the Lac St. Louis region. Hurtubisewas was tasked with sending 14 of his best and brightest refs to officiate the tournament. Among the 14 referees chosen were Dailleboust, who refereed the Peewee AAs in Chateauguay, and Stacey, who refereed the Bantam BBs in Ville St. Laurent.
Hurtubise, along with other supervisory referees, selects who will be sent to work high-stakes tournaments like these based on a variety of factors: competence, discipline, and, most of all, the number of games officiated during the current season.
Dailleboust said he refereed 107 games this year, while Stacey said approximately 125, an estimate he described as “low-balling it.”
“These two are always there, always saying yes, always available – even on short notice sometimes, so they definitely deserve being chosen this year,” said Hurtubise. “They’re two good kids that listen and learn quickly.”
The pair’s diligence served them well, as both were chosen to officiate the championship games of their respective age groups.
“These two kids have just excelled right from the start,” said Hurtubise.
For Dailleboust, refereeing is in his blood. His father, former referee Clifford “Shooter” Dailleboust, encouraged him to take up officiating minor hockey two years ago. Since then, Adam hasn’t looked back.
“I plan to try to go to the NHL,” said Adam.
Refereeing requires discipline. As Hurtubise explained, referees can begin their career at the age of 11, refereeing Novice. Each season they take courses, and upon successful completion of a test, they are permitted to move up to higher levels of play.
“They have to dress a certain way to come to the arena; they have to be a certain way on the ice; their equipment has to be a certain way; they have to be half an hour in the dressing room before the game,” said Hurtubise.
It can also be a thankless job, to say the least – Adam said hostility usually comes from coaches and parents, however, not players.
“You have to deal with them screaming, calling you names. You have to learn how to manage the game. That part of the job can be challenging,” said Adam.
To him, dealing with this anger is a skill that one develops through practice, like any other part of the job.
When asked what he enjoys most about the job, Stacey said, “I like feeling as if I’m in control of the game, because I have trust in myself.”
Stacey also sees refereeing as an opportunity to give back to a community that shaped him and nurtured his love for the sport. “When I ref in town, that’s something that’s amazing,” he said.
“We definitely need more representation from town,” said Stacey. “You can have all of the referees from town on the ice for a four-man system and still only have two guys.”
“Very rarely will I actually say that officials were part of the reason why a team wins or loses a game. I just don’t believe in that,” said Brandon Bordeau, who referees lacrosse.
Through his Youtube channel, Baby Blue Memories, Bordeau broadcasts most minor hockey games that Kahnawake participates in, each recording accompanied by his professional-grade commentary. He’s seen countless games and countless calls.
Bordeau said that in the vast majority of games, referees are disciplined in their fairness, but he also said that of the few cases where referees are biased, this bias is usually against Kahnawake, and in favour of their opponent.
And it’s not just in hockey. Bordeau said he’s seen it in lacrosse, too.
Stacey said that most often this bias shows itself in what referees are willing to let slide.
“Not calling something is a call,” said Stacey.
Both Stacey and Adam are hopeful that with their example and Hurtubise’s efforts to recruit more Kahnawa’kehró:non referees, this bias will become a problem of the past.
“In our region, they’re getting better,” said Stacey.
This past weekend, the Suroit zone held a ‘pre-camp’ for aspiring referees. According to Hurtubise, there were three new Kahnawa’kehró:non present. Hurtubise hopes he can find five more between now and the fall, when referees will be officially chosen to join staff. It’s also a goal of his to double the number of women who referee in the region, of which there are currently five.
“I think what Adam and Matthew are doing is helping establish a trend,” said Bordeau. “I think if we continue to put out referees who are establishing connections with peers from other communities, then the potential to establish that kind of a connection would obviously serve to benefit the community.”
The pair of young refs spoke glowingly of their fellow referees.
“We’re like one big family. We love to communicate with each other, we socialize, make new friends,” said Adam.
“My referee community is like my second family.… You go to a meeting and it’s actually identical to a family reunion,” said Stacey.
“Even after my first year, I knew at least 50 percent of people on a first-name basis, because everyone’s so well knit together.”
For Hurtubise, the road ahead for Adam and Dailleboust seems promising. “The sky’s the limit for them.”