Many of Katie Guay’s former hockey teammates at Brown University still chuckle when they think about her becoming a referee. A hit she placed upon an unsuspecting member of the University of Minnesota’s women’s team during the 2002 NCAA Frozen Four semifinal is the reason why.
Guay, then a freshman with the Bears, was a no-holds-barred grinder on the third line.
“The adrenaline was flowing and I was going full speed and collided with the girl,” Guay said of the physical contact, barred in the NCAA rulebook.
“I knew my actions warranted a penalty and I just skated straight to the penalty box,” Guay chuckled.
As it turned out, her check was caught on videotape and became a clip on an NCAA hockey rules video.
Guay, who became the first woman to ever officiate at an NCAA Division I men’s game in 2015, has been lacing up her skates and pulling a striped jersey over her shoulders for over a decade. In addition to refereeing NCAA Division I games for men and women in the ECAC, she also works Hockey East women’s and NCAA Division III games throughout the Northeast.
And for the next few weeks, the Mansfield resident will be among the seven Americans, two from New England, in the pool of 47 on-ice officials from 13 countries for the Olympic Winter Games in PyeongChang, South Korea – her most prestigious assignment yet.
“It’s been a long process,” Guay said of the nearly eight years of being reviewed by USA Hockey and the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF). “It’s a tryout every time I’m on the ice.”
Guay’s trip to the Olympics began back on the ponds and rinks of Westfield, where she grew up. Her elder brother Todd, by four years, and elder sister Lisa, by three years, were hockey players too, so being at the rink has more chapters than any in her book of maturation.
“Through high school, I played soccer, softball and lacrosse, but hockey really became my passion,” she said.
After attending Westfield High for one year, Guay enrolled at Deerfield Academy, scoring 74 career goals before graduating in 2001. That earned her a ticket to the Ivy League, totaling 69 points playing in 128 games over a four-year career at Brown.
Guay netted 10 goals during her freshman season, was the Bears’ MVP as a sophomore, had 21 points in 31 games as a junior and captained the Brown team as a senior.
“Following my college career, I missed being around the rink, and wanted to stay involved in the game which had been such a big part of my life for so many years,” Guay said.
Soon after donning the striped jersey, she found a local mentor, Julie Piaceninti of Hyde Park, who officiated at the 2002 and 2006 Olympic Games. “Julie taught me early on that the commitment of a top level official is equivalent to that of the players,” she said.
Guay, who has been supervised and rated since an IIHF development camp in 2010, has attended USA Hockey developmental camps to improve her understanding and interpretation of the rulebook as well as her on ice positioning. Last summer, Guay was among the six Americans (four referees and two linesmen) to be invited to an IIHF camp in Switzerland amidst a congregation of 35 candidates spanning the globe being reviewed by the IIHF for the Olympic Games.
“There was a lot of off-ice testing,” Guay said. “Off-ice testing is a piece of the long selection process.”
She first had the dream of officiating at the Olympics during the 2011 World Championships in France.
“When I first started officiating, an international tournament was my goal, and when I had the chance to travel to France, I was eager for future opportunities and set the Olympics as the ultimate goal,” Guay said.
While she’s about to achieve a dream at one of the highest levels of the sport she loves, Guay will be the first to tell you that it’s sometimes a lot harder to officiate at a youth hockey tournament because the skill sets are still being developed rather than at a collegiate game.
“Is an under-10 game any easier than a college game? I don’t think so,” she said. “You never know what can happen during any game. Men’s games are more physical. At the higher levels, the games have more flow — you can see plays develop, the anticipation is easier.”
“Every game has its own challenges,” she said.
“I’ve worked really hard to be in consideration for the candidates for the Olympic Games,” she said. “It’s been a dream of mine.”
Now all Guay has left to do is sharpen her skates.