Glen Ellyn Native Sticks to Goal of Officiating Professional Hockey
Lemon, John, Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)
Byline: John Lemon Daily Herald Correspondent
Breaking ground in a male-dominated field has never been easy for women. Heather McDaniel knows this as well as anyone, but the first woman ever to referee a regular season professional hockey game isn't looking for sympathy.
McDaniel, a Glen Ellyn native who now lives in Los Angeles, made history by working three games in the fledgling West Coast Hockey League last winter.
Her officiating was big news. She became the subject of several newspaper articles and radio shows. But while she understands the attention, McDaniel said it was not why she started the unusual profession seven years ago.
"When I was first asked about being the first woman, I didn't realize it. I hadn't even thought about it," McDaniel said. "That was never my intention. I knew I was different, a female in a male-dominated area. But I just thought of myself as another official."
McDaniel is a Level 4 USA Hockey official, which is the highest level. She has worked games in international and junior hockey tournaments since she began officiating recreational leagues seven years ago.
Becoming a top hockey official is much like the climb players face. It is a competitive field, and McDaniel has been battling to move up the ranks. Several qualities go into becoming a professional hockey official.
McDaniel certainly has the skating ability. She is a former figure skater and once trained with Olympic medalists Nancy Kerrigan and Paul Wylie. Her dreams switched from skating to hockey when, at 17, McDaniel suffered a rib injury that ended her figure skating career.
Hockey officials also need the right temperament and because of her gender, McDaniel certainly has dealt with more than her share of doubt and abuse. After breaking up a penalty, for example, a player once gave her a kiss.
That type of harassment was something league officials were worried about before the season. But after watching the way McDaniel handled those situations - with a strong will and a sense of humor - they couldn't be happier.
"We are quite proud we got her a chance," said Joe Mizgowicz, supervisor of officials for the West Coast Hockey League. "It was hard to convince people to give her a chance. There is sort of a kid-glove approach to the whole thing. I have to make sure the acceptance level is there."
McDaniel, who is 5-foot-5 and 135 pounds, said she can handle the verbal abuse.
"It's a funny reaction," McDaniel said. "I expect it. I can't expect them to treat me the same. I go on the ice without a chip on my shoulder. I don't take me too seriously. They kid around with me, but there is a line. They will say women don't belong on the ice and try to pick on your weakest link."
Like McDaniel, the WCHL made history last year. It was the first year for the minor league, which had six teams and will add a seventh this season. …