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From SoCal to Sochi

 

Southern California native/Minnesota resident Alicia Hanrahan will serve as an on-ice official at the 2014 Winter Olympics

 

By Alyssa Hollenback

When you think of Southern California, what comes to mind? Sunny, sandy beaches? Beautiful weather? Certainly, most of us in the State of Hockey do not think of Southern California as the place to begin a life revolving around hockey, but Alicia Hanrahan proves that the love of the game is a foundation for a career in hockey – even in the most unlikely of places.

Hanrahan spent her whole young life in California. Unlike Minnesotans, who practically learn to skate as they learn to walk, she was not exposed to hockey until her 20s. After learning more and more about the game, Hanrahan decided to take up skating at age 23.

Although late to discover hockey, it was ‘love at first skate’ for Hanrahan. She began her career by playing on a women’s recreational team for five years. The team proved to be a very helpful in teaching Hanrahan the rules of the game, gaining more and more exposure as time went on. During this time, Hanrahan began coaching youth hockey in her free time as a way to get even more involved in the hockey world.

“When the recreation team folded in 2000, I knew that I needed to make a move if I wanted to continue being involved in the game I loved,” she says.

Soon after, Hanrahan moved to Ohio where she began her officiating career.

Not long after making the move to Ohio, Hanrahan was contacted by USA Hockey, where she was invited to attend a camp to further develop her officiating skills. As it turned out, something that began as nothing more than a hobby proved to be a calling for Hanrahan and USA Hockey began taking notice. She began officiating college games and was invited to attend two more camps with USA Hockey program before she joined the ranks of international officials. Beginning with international exhibitions in 2006, Hanrahan “just kept getting more and more assignments.” Her first game abroad was in Latvia in 2008, followed by Switzerland, China and Germany. Before she knew it, officiating was taking her all over the world.

Though she did not receive a spot among female officials for the 2010 Olympics, Hanrahan reflects, “It was just not my time yet.” Missing out on 2010, she decided to set her eyes on the 2014 Olympics and made effort possible to make it a reality – even moving to Minnesota to gain exposure to the more upper levels of hockey.

In addition to taking on more assignments, which helps keep the on-ice official in shape, Hanrahan says that she does her best off the ice to stay physically prepared.  “I try to control my intake by eating the best I can, although we all have our cheat days,” she says

She says that although skating is the best way to stay in shape for the demanding role of an on-ice official, Hanrahan goes to the gym on her off days, moving between cardio and the occasional weights.

Besides being physically demanding, being a female official in the hockey world has many challenges. Hanrahan mentions that it is difficult to be taken seriously by her male peers. “I can’t help but feel as though when we are on the ice, we are seen as women, rather than another official,” she says.

Since female officials began being used in 1996, the challenge of appearing as co-equals with their male counterparts has been very difficult. “Unfortunately, until things are more established, this is just the way it is,” Hanrahan says. 

Fast-forward to Thanksgiving 2013 when Hanrahan received an e-mail from her boss at USA Hockey letting her know she would be serving as one of three female officials at the Sochi Olympics in 2014. “As you can imagine, my first reaction was to burst into tears,” she says.

Although she had caught wind about a month prior that she may be among those going to Russia, to have it written out in front of her, “it finally felt concrete.”

“I am so excited about the overall experience,” she says. “This will be a totally different undertaking than anything else in my officiating career up to this point.”

In preparation for Sochi in just a few short weeks, Hanrahan has been ramping up the assignments, particularly with the recent matchup between the USA and Canada at the Xcel Energy Center in December. “That game was great prep for me and really got me jazzed up for the Olympics!”

Hanrahan was also among the officials at the Grand Forks game where the ladies on the ice were throwing punches like fighters in the UFC. These recent fights have drawn more attention to the increased physicality of the game, particularly in high-intensity, high-stakes showdowns. Like many other coaches and officials in women’s hockey, Hanrahan does not condone fighting, but she also does not think it is a growing issue.

“I don’t think it is something we need to be concerned about; the on-ice officials have things under control,” she says

According to Hanrahan, calling the illegal moves is essential to keeping things controlled. “When we don’t call those moves, that is when things get out of hand.”

Hanrahan does mention that she is disappointed in all of the fighting, simply because it is what separates men’s and women’s hockey.

“The limits on checking and fighting mean that women need to be more calculated in their skating and passing, and I would hate to see that diminish due to the physicality.”

Even as the game continues to change, including increased physical force between the women, Hanrahan is well-prepped to join in the Americans in Sochi. There are only 18 years that separate the first time she tied up a pair of skates and stepping on the ice in a few months to officiate the Olympics – and Hanrahan could not be more proud.

“I think my story just proves that if you dedicate yourself to something and are willing to make the necessary sacrifices, you can achieve anything you put your mind to.”

From SoCal to Sochi, Hanrahan proves that the road to a career in hockey can begin anywhere.