Two Nova Scotia female hockey officials are working games in the newly formed Professional Women's Hockey League.
Shauna Neary of Antigonish and Sophie Thomson of Halifax were on the ice for their first pro games on Jan. 20.
"I was on Christmas holidays down in Florida when I was notified by email," said Neary. "It was like a double Christmas for me."
Both Neary and Thomson officiated their second game a week later. They are hoping to get regular assignments as the league schedule continues through to late May.
Shauna Neary is shown refereeing a recent AUS women's game at Saint Mary's University. (Richard Lafortune)
Neary, 38, played competitive hockey and was a goalie at Mount Allison University. She got into officiating after her playing days ended.
She now has 14 years of experience as a referee. She has also done a lot of coaching, including a stint with the Dalhousie University women's team.
"You always want to give back to the sport in some way because I feel the game has given me so much," said Neary.
"I really enjoyed the officiating component and I really wanted to see how far I could push my officiating career so I decided to step away from coaching so I could focus thoroughly on officiating."
That was five years ago. Since then Neary has refereed games at the junior A and junior B level as well as AUS women's games and numerous international events.
Sophie Thomson is hoping to get more officiating assignments with the PWHL and would like to officiate at the Olympics in the future. (Hockey Canada)
Sophie Thomson is much younger than Neary. The 25-year-old is a lineswoman and was ecstatic when she got the nod to officiate games in the new league.
Thomson grew up in Halifax but lived in Antigonish for four years when she went to St. Francis Xavier University.
She moved to Yarmouth for two years and also did a lot of officiating in that part of the province.
"When I was in Grade 7 my brother was refereeing and I just said, 'I'm going to do that as well,'" said Thomson. "The opportunities came and I picked them up and by Grade 12 I stopped playing hockey and just started to pursue refereeing."
Thomson and Neary both know each other well. Thomson says she has learned a lot from her friend.
"When I was a kid playing hockey in Nova Scotia, Shauna would referee my games," said Thomson, who was interviewed from Thailand where she is currently on vacation. "She's been an amazing role model."
Thomson says she's hoping to work a PWHL game with Neary this season and she feels good about adding another layer of Nova Scotia content to the new league.
Four Nova Scotia players — Blayre Turnbull (Stellarton), Jill Saulnier (Halifax), Allie Munroe (Yarmouth) and Carly Jackson (Amherst) — are in the league. Kori Cheverie (New Glasgow) and Troy Ryan (Halifax) are head coaches.
Both Thomson and Neary say they would like to officiate at the Olympics in the future and both say they are fortunate to have employers who have accommodated their officiating schedules.
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