Having gone to nationals in three of her five years with the University of Manitoba Bisons, Erica Holmes has some impressive credentials as a hockey player.
She’s aiming even higher as an official.
The 25-year-old Brandon native is establishing herself as one of Canada’s up-and-coming on-ice officials, earning plum national and even international assignments.
In recent years, Holmes has donned the stripes at the last two Canadian under-18 women’s hockey championships as well as the 2011 Canada Winter Games in Halifax. Her highlight as an official was working as a linesman for an exhibition game between China and Switzerland when Manitoba hosted the 2007 world women’s championship.
Now working as a physiotherapist in Grande Prairie, Alta., Holmes’ introduction to officiating was innocuous enough, but it didn’t take long for her to get hooked.
"I started officiating in Grade 10 because through hockey and all my other sports you couldn’t get a real part-time job," said Holmes, who earned her master of science in physiotherapy from Dalhousie University last year. "I look at it as ‘Hey, I’m getting paid to skate,’ and I love to skate."
Continuing to juggle both roles throughout the rest of high school and university, she soon discovered that playing at an elite level helped to make her a better official and vice versa.
"It’s really taught me a lot about the game," she said. "I feel that it helped improve me as a player, just knowing all the rules. And I had coaches who would ask ‘Is that right? Is that what’s supposed to happen?’ — stuff like that. And also, reffing little kids … it just kept my fire. It kept me passionate about hockey because sometimes, at least with university, it’s day after day after day and you’re tired and have exams and you kind of get worn down. But then you go and ref, whatever, an Atom AA game and these kids are tiny but they live and die hockey. They’re trying their hardest and don’t even care and at times, when the season gets long, you need that extra reminder."
Holmes sees those reminders around her all the time, spending more hours than she can keep track of at the rink in a given week. She’s still plays at the Senior A level and also helps out the Grande Prairie Storm Minor Midget AAA boys’ team as a physiotherapist and trainer.
Having gotten so much encouragement every step of the way since she began officiating in Manitoba, Holmes said she’s also ready to help others who might want to follow in her footsteps.
"If people come and ask me, like any female officials, I’ll definitely answer their questions," she said. "I remember when someone was (saying things) like ‘You can travel as an official. If you can’t make it to nationals as a hockey player, make it as an official. If you can’t make it to the Olympics as a hockey player, you might be able to go as an official.’ Why not, right? It’s my goal to make it to an international tournament as a linesman or as a ref, but more likely as a linesman."
Just like advancing in a sport as a player there is competition along the way. Holmes points out, however, that there is also a great support network, even at national tournaments where the officials have their expenses covered but aren’t paid, receiving their greatest reward in the form of experience.
"You’re evaluated every game. You learn from the officials around you," she said. "It’s a great community. The girls that go to nationals, we’re all there to help each other. It’s a competition to see who can get that bronze- and gold-medal game, but I want to make that person on the lines next to me even better."