As a hockey official, Alex Clarke is usually the one handing out calls.
But this season, she’s been on the receiving end of a few, with the first coming from the Western Hockey League, as she became the first female to ever officiate a major junior hockey game in the country.
“When I realized there hadn’t been a female official in the Western Hockey League, which was about three years ago, that’s when I made it my goal to get there,” said Clarke. “Being the first female official to work in the Western Hockey League, it gives younger females the opportunity to see a woman on the ice.
“I’m a big believer of, ‘If you can see it, you can dream it.’”
Clarke, who lives in Weyburn, Sask., with her husband and two-year-old daughter, is no stranger to working elite hockey, having skated dozens of Junior A and university hockey games over the past few years, and just this year, she also became one of the first women to work in the American Hockey League.
On top of that, her international hockey resume has grown extensively over the past few years, including an assignment at the 2021 IIHF women’s world hockey championship. And now in February, Clarke will reach the pinnacle of her officiating career, as she’s been selected as a linesperson for the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.
“Honestly, it’s something that I’ve been working at for a lot of years now,” said Clarke. “This is the highest stage I’ll ever get to work on the female side of the game. It’s the highlight of my female career.
“Being able to take in the fact that I’m going to be on the ice with the top female players and officials and athletes in the female game is what I’m most excited about.”
Growing up in Drake, Sask., Clarke – whose maiden name is Blair – has always loved hockey. From 2008 to 2011, she played under-18 triple-A girls’ hockey in Weyburn, before heading to Duluth, Minn., where she played Division III hockey at the College of St. Scholastica.
After she graduated, Clarke was drafted by the Calgary Inferno of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League. But since she was recovering from a knee injury, she decided not to pursue the playing career and instead, took up officiating, which allowed her to stay in the game.
Since then, her career in stripes has skyrocketed and according to the WHL’s senior director of officiating Kevin Muench, it’s no surprise she’s gotten to where she has given her work ethic.
“It’s been an exceptional year and her progress has been very good,” said Muench. “The Olympics are special and every level that she’s gone, she’s proven that she’s ready for it.
“We track officials for quite a few years before they see the ice in the Western Hockey League and Alex was one of those officials. She skates well, she’s got a sharp mind, she reads the play well and it was just a matter of whether she could adjust to a different speed and a different tempo of the game in the Western Hockey League and we felt really comfortable with the progression she had made at other levels of hockey that she could do the same in the Western Hockey League.”
While officiating five to seven times a week, Clarke also has a full-time job with Farm Credit Canada. On top of that, she’s a wife and a mom to a two-year-old daughter, who has provided plenty of inspiration for her to continue to break barriers in the game.
“Being a mom adds a different level of commitment and dedication of being able to get here,” said Clarke. “And I hope mostly that one day my daughter can look back and respect and be proud of how I, as a mother, followed my dreams.”
Muench believes Clarke is paving the way for other women and girls to achieve what they set out to do, whether it be on the male or female side of the game.
“Hockey is a performance-based industry, we don’t hire people just because,” said Muench. “With the way female officiating is progressing, they’ll be competing with male officials, but yes, I would think we’re going to see more female officials because the competition level is getting that much better and the quality of female officiating is getting that much better.
“She’s setting the path for others to follow in her trail.”