Saskatchewan

Globetrotting Saskatchewan hockey referee among Canada's best

It's one of the toughest jobs in sports, but Michelle Stapleton loves being a hockey referee.

Michelle Stapleton headed to Hungary, Kazakhstan for major hockey tournaments

Michelle Stapleton (centre, along with Jessica Coleman and Nicole Bowers) at the gold medal game at the Esso Cup in Weyburn, Sask., in April 2016. Stapleton will soon be heading to tournaments in Hungary and Kazakhstan. (Submitted by Michelle Stapleton)

It's one of the toughest jobs in sports — not to mention the one most frequently criticized by fans — but Saskatoon's Michelle Stapleton loves being a hockey referee.

And her skill at it is taking her to some high-profile tournaments around the globe.

"There's so many things that I love about it," Stapleton told CBC Radio's Morning Edition. "Being in the game, working towards goals, and then the friendships that you gain."

There are more than 2,200 female officials registered with Hockey Canada, but Stapleton is one of the few Canadian officials with the highest level of certification. While growing up in Moose Jaw, she developed her knowledge and passion for the game after years of watching her brother play.

"I started when I was 13. My brother was a referee and played hockey all growing up. So when I saw him reffing and kind of making some money as a part-time job, it seemed like a good opportunity to get involved and try it out," she said.

Now, Stapleton is being called in to officiate some major international tournaments. On Friday, she's heading to Budapest, Hungary for the IIHF Under 18 Women's World Championship (Division 1 Group A).

After that, the 26-year-old will be in Kazakhstan for the 2017 Winter Universiade. Not bad for someone who was just looking for a decent part-time job as a teenager.

"It definitely took a lot of years," she said. "You kind of start out in the minor hockey leagues in your province and work up from there."

As far as always being under the microscope, Stapleton seemed completely unfazed by it all.

"You definitely tend to tune it out as much as you can and not worry about it," she said. 

The nature of sports produces emotional coaches and players, but Stapleton said young or aspiring refs just need to stick with it.

"Everybody makes a bad call in the game. It happens. We're all humans."

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