When Elrose native Brooke Sands was presented the Quinn Stevenson SMHA(Saskatoon Minor Hockey Association) Referee of the Year Award, it was a recognition of the long road Sands has taken to officiate at the level she does. This award recognizes the late Quinn Stevenson who reffed out of Saskatoon, and memorializes him by recognizing one of the hard-working and strong referees the SMHA has each year.
According to the release, Brooke is a most deserving recipient. Her story is an interesting one as Sands never played organized hockey, and had to teach herself to skate. She acknowledges that her skating has been the biggest hurdle to overcome, though she has still managed to work her way up the ladder of officiating higher levels of hockey. She branched out of working just minor hockey and has since worked both female and male AAA, as well as getting into some U Sports competition.
Power skating, and taking every game and opportunity possible is what has gotten Sands to this point, and she is happy to now be recognized for it. Her mom was the one to get in touch with West Central Online about her come-up and the award, and Brooke was able to corroborate some of her mothers sentiments towards her daughter.
From numerous 6 am starts, to inviting people and leading extra on-ice sessions to get better, being a ref is something that Sands has clearly put a lot of time and effort into.
“I don’t know how many miles I put on my car but it is a lot,” chuckled Brooke.
Sands won the Saskatoon award but does travel all over the province for AAA games as she mentioned her abundance of early mornings, though she does have fond memories of her early days reffing a fair amount of west central hockey. Her journey so far has caught tons of eyes along the way, as Clint Joyes and the SMHA’s referee division called Brooke one of the hardest working officials they have met. She has begun working with younger officials in Saskatoon as an SMHA Supervisor, but is being supervised herself as she works towards the next level.
“Last year was the first year I was invited to nationals, and then it was canceled due to COVID,” said Sands, “My goal eventually is to get to nationals and do well, and just kind of see where I go from there. I would love to lines, and eventually work some Junior A hockey if I get my skating good enough. That is dependent on the future.”
She is hoping that her hard work will pay off not only on the ice, but potentially in the form of a police career as well. Her training helps her towards the goal of becoming a member of the Saskatoon City Police or RCMP. Her current job in the city as an educational assistant was a great choice in the meantime because it was beneficial for her reffing career.
“I just ended up as an EA, it wasn’t really planned. It’s a good in-between job, to be able to hop on the road and ref in the evenings.”
Sands hopes to use her conditioning as a tool that will help her become a police officer, as being able to keep up with the game is one of the biggest aspects of being a ref. Still, skating skill in general is the most important part for someone as rawly talented as Sands.
“We are out there the full 60 minutes, skating is a huge part,” she said, “especially as a ref you do a lot of backwards skating, figure eights, and you don’t really do a ton of stops. Linesmen do a lot of stops and starts. The skating has to be good, you have to be as good as the players if not better.”
Because Sands has progressed so quickly, she already knows what kind of things officiating the different levels of hockey requires. She said that they typically start off females working male hockey in a linesman role, but move them to the referees spot quickly as linesman is typically the more physically demanding position.
Because of her uncertain future, Sands doesn’t quite know how big of a role reffing will play in her life, but she knows the future of women officiating male sports is in good hands. She obviously wants more appreciation for the female game, but does admit there is a certain edge to the men’s side that makes it more appealing.
“I wish it (women’s hockey) was more watched and promoted, but definitely in male hockey there is an exciting element that makes you really want to work it.”
The NHL has taken steps to make their refereeing program less gender exclusive. No full-time female referees are expected soon, but the league has given opportunities to some of the top options by including them in meetings, inviting them to camps, and even offering exposure through the ability to work prospect or similar type games. Sands has some friends in the trade that have been apart of NHL meetings in past years.
The Elrose born girl has come a long way from reffing novice games as a teenager, with different notable hockey events being attached to her resume. These include working the Mandi Schwartz Challenge, Notre Dame Showcase, Saskatchewan Winter Games, Juno Cup, as well as being picked to officiate at the Hockey Canada Esso Cup and the National Aboriginal Championship.
Brooke’s statement about the award detailed her appreciation for all the experiences, friends, and variety of skills this journey has given her. Newfound skills in communication, work ethic, and dedication are things she will never forget.
Sands looks forward to getting back on the ice in the fall.
Craig & Bonny Stevenson, Brooke Sands, Kevin Sparks (Ref in Chief SMHA 2020-21)