Most Canadians are passionate about hockey, but few would put it ahead of their careers.
Then there’s Erica Holmes.
A born and raised Manitoban, Holmes had the opportunity to move to Grande Prairie, Alta., to start her career as a physiotherapist.
“I knew I wanted to work in Alberta, and the job here (at LifeMark Health Centre) was the best option for me,” Holmes said, “I originally wanted to work in Calgary, but the job here was the best fit for my personality and what I was looking for.”
She wouldn’t commit until she was assured she could continue reffing hockey at the level she was qualified for in Manitoba.
“I requested a transfer (from Hockey Canada) when I knew I was first coming out here; I wanted to make sure my residency got changed to Alberta,” Holmes said. “That was a stipulation of me accepting a job out here – that I could transfer (reffing credentials) over, so I wouldn’t have to start from scratch. I was allowed to transfer and continue doing elite hockey. So then I accepted the job.
“I put my priorities in a row and reffing is one of my top priorities.”
She’s not just passionate about reffing; she’s good. Among the best in the country, to be accurate.
Holmes has reffed at provincial, national and even international levels, and her reffing resume will get another addition next month, when she takes to the ice as a linesman for the National Women’s Under-18 Championship in Dawson Creek, B.C.
The 25-year-old Brandon native has been officiating for 10 years now, both as a ref and a linesman, for both genders.
“I ref mostly girls’ hockey – I do some guys’ hockey, when needed,” she said. “I find that it makes you a better whole official if you do a little reffing on the side, but my passion is definitely that of a linesman. It sounds weird, but I like that part of the game better.”
Holmes said that despite her years of experience, she is still learning. That is one of the biggest appeals of officiating to her.
“I just like still being involved in hockey and learning the game to a greater extent,” she said. “I have played hockey my whole life, but when I first started officiating I found out that there are a bunch of different rules that I wasn’t aware of. It’s exciting and it’s a challenge, too.
“You’re out there as a team of three and you are trying to do the best job possible. It’s really fun and I just love all aspects of the sport.”
“Fun” and “hockey ref” are words not often seen in the same sentence, or the same context. The turnaround for hockey officials is staggering.
“You do put up with a lot of abuse, and more so the head official,” Holmes said. “You are trying to do your best every game and what people don’t understand is there are some things that you just can’t see at ice level, because either a player is in your way, or whatever.
“To me, I don’t care who wins. I just care that (we, officials) do a good job.”
So how does she deal with the abuse? How does she tune out the comments?
“Most of the time I find it funny,” Holmes said. “Yeah, sometimes it will get under your skin but most of the time you (officials) know more about the game than they (spectators) do.... Sometimes some of the comments that those hockey moms make just doesn’t make sense at all, if you know anything at all about hockey.”
“But if it does get to you, that’s when you have to rely on your team, the other officials. We have to stick together and get through it as a team. That’s the big thing I learned by getting involved in elite reffing, is that you support the other officials on the ice. You are a team and you do a much better job on the ice when you work together.”
When it comes to Holmes’s love for the sport, it’s not just about reffing.
She really does encompass herself around hockey. She played right through to the university level, a defenceman for her entire five years at the University of Manitoba.
She has already signed up to play with the Grande Prairie Panthers (senior women), and if that isn’t enough, she is also the trainer for the U-16 Midget AAA Storm.
But it all stems back to reffing.
“It’s a great part-time job,” Holmes said.
“You get paid to skate, so it’s extra ice time. I remember the first time I did it, I couldn’t believe it. I was like ‘I’m getting paid to do this and I get to learn the game?’ It’s so much fun and there are a lot of doors out there to be opened. There’s a lot of female hockey in the area and not many female officials, so there’s a lot of work if I want it.”
So Holmes found a career opportunity in Grande Prairie, then accepted the position only after first ensuring that her reffing credentials were transferrable, then finding a team to play with and a team to volunteer as trainer on. Then once she got here she looked for a place to live.
In that order?
“Yeah, pretty much,” she said with a laugh.
You know you’re Canadian when ...