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P.G.'s Barlow makes hockey history as part of all-female officiating crew in BCHL game

Former Northern Capitals defenceman now studying dentistry at UBC

Grace Barlow made hockey history Sunday afternoon at South Surrey Arena.

The 23-year-old former Northern Capitals defenceman from Prince George accomplished two firsts on the B.C. Hockey League stage.

First, she had the honour of being part of the first all-female on-ice officiating crew to ever work a junior A hockey game in Canada. Barlow and Megan Howes of Burnaby were the referees, while Melissa Brunn of Kelowna and Colleen Geddes of Abbotsford suited up as the linesmen.

Then, after the Surrey Eagles put the finishing touches on a 5-4 shootout win over the Langley Rivermen, the four officials made a curtain call when they all were selected as first stars of the game.

“Being on an all-female crew is both exciting and comfortable,” Barlow told Jesse Adamson, the BCHL’s communications and events manager. “These women beside me have been my friends, as well as my colleagues, for years. Getting the opportunity to make history with them is an honour. I hope other young women can watch this game and know that all aspects of hockey are for everyone.”

Barlow played three seasons as a defenceman in the B.C. Female Triple-A Midget Hockey League for the Prince George-based Northern Capitals. In 85 league games she collected four goals and 21 assists and led the Capitals to back-to-back provincial championships in 2015 and 2016.

The daughter of Cheryl and Mark Barlow was an assistant coach two seasons ago for the Northern Capitals. She now lives in Vancouver, where she’s enrolled in second-year studies in the dentistry program at UBC.

Brunn and Geddes worked as linesmen in the BCHL exhibition season Oct. 5-6 when the Canada’s national woman’s team visited the Trail Smoke Eaters and Cranbrook Bucks. Sunday’s game was the first BCHL experience for Barlow and Howes.

“To share the ice with strong athletes is one thing, but to skate alongside strong female athletes at this level is another,” said Howes. “I am tremendously proud of our journey thus far.”

Said Brunn: “As much as we want to address this as ‘just another game on a Sunday’, I hope this shows that hard work and dedication pay off. This game is monumental for the game of hockey as four females take the ice. However, it is also about recognizing that drive and determination are not marked by gender. I hope we are able to make the BCHL, our peers and young female athletes proud.”

All four women participated in the Hockey Canada Officiating Pathway program, having learned their craft starting with their local hockey associations and provincial high-performance programs.

“This is another step towards a more inclusive approach to hockey,” said Vanessa Stratton, female officiating lead for BC Hockey. “We commend the BCHL’s openness to providing equitable opportunities for females. This game will showcase the abilities of our female officials to perform at this level and, in the future, hopefully becomes commonplace, rather than celebrated.”

“They are leaders for the next generation of young female officials and that is something to be so proud of.”

Barlow, Howes and Brunn officiated the 2019 National Women’s Under-18 Hockey Championship in Manitoba, while Barlow was a referee in the 2019 National Aboriginal Hockey Championship.

The success these officials have achieved is a testament to their perseverance and dedication to their craft,” says Dan Hanoomansingh, manager of officiating with Hockey Canada. “Yes, it’s a history-making night, but with the work being done at the member level, the hope is this becomes commonplace in the not-too-distant future.”

At the WHL level, 28-year-old Alex Clarke of Weyburn, Sask., became the first female on-ice official when she worked as a linesman in a preseason game Sept. 24 in Moose Jaw between the Moose Jaw Warriors and Regina Pats.