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Celebrating women in the MJHL | Chelsea Leskiw

Story by Dave Anthony

Chelsea Leskiw – Off-Ice Official, formerly with the Selkirk Steelers and Winnipeg Blues, currently works MJHL Showcase and with the AHL’s Manitoba Moose

The term “for love of the game” gets thrown around a lot but for Chelsea Leskiw, it’s not a saying, it’s a way of hockey life. “I really love the game” she explains. “I love that I get to see it from a different perspective. I get to do the admin for hockey all while watching the game and watching it grow through the community. I like being involved with it off the ice and see it all come together.”

Chelsea breaks down what it means to be an off-ice official and there’s a lot that fans maybe don’t know. “We are basically the timekeeper but for people who think all we do is hit start and stop on the clock, they’re wrong, there’s a lot more to it. We have to be at the rink an hour and a half before the game to start the paperwork for the game sheet, we get the lineup cards from the home and away coaches and then we transfer all that info, we write it into the game sheet. Then we take it all and put it onto the website. Then we get the coach’s signatures and the starters, while that’s all going on, we have to be ready for warmup. We would run the Stats website, so all the starts and stops go onto the website, we’d play the music and the ads, plus the penalty’s, the shots on goal, the time outs… all that little stuff that people think is super simple, but a lot goes into it that people don’t see. The less they know we’re there, the better job we’re doing.”

While working with the Blues, it wasn’t just admin work for Chelsea. “I also did the music, so on top of all the admin duties, I had to do the clock and music at the same time.”

Being an off-ice official started pretty early for Chelsea. “I started timekeeping when I was 12 or 13,” she recalls. “I was in Selkirk and I was just doing it to make extra money. I became pretty good, and more people gave me opportunities to do more games at the AA or AAA level. Eventually, I started with the Steelers, just helping out or filling in, but when I took over full time, it was in 2013 and worked with them until 2016/17. After Selkirk, I spent two seasons with the Blues, then I started doing the Showcases. I started when I was young, became pretty good at it, plus I have nice writing, so people just kept giving me opportunities. I was eager to learn and take on more. It just became my life, doing timekeeping in the winter and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Looking back at her start with the Steelers, Chelsea admits it was a little overwhelming at times. “They were pretty stressful at the start”, she says with a laugh. “You don’t really know what to expect when you’re coming from minor hockey, you get used to just stopping and starting the clock and filling out the game sheets. Once you incorporate online stats and music and announcing and shots on goal… you realize it’s busy and you have to be on high alert at all times. Luckily, I picked it up pretty quickly but there are some people who sub for me who tell me they just can’t keep up.”

After spending some time in the MJHL, Chelsea explains how she got on with the Manitoba Moose. “I filled out this thing called the ‘Hockey Resume’, it highlights all the hockey experience you have and the past you have. When the Moose came back, I threw my hat into the ring and I was one of the lucky ones to get hired on. Currently, I do the clock and penalty sheets, which is what I would do at MJ games. For the next series, the Moose are back, I’ll be doing the online stats. It’s exactly what the MJHL uses so it’ll be a smooth transition for me. I’m very fortunate to have the time in the MJHL that helped me be ready for the AHL and help me to succeed.”

Being one of only a handful of people in the big rink during a game is pretty weird, according to Chelsea. “It’s super creepy, it’s so quiet,” she says with a chuckle. “I don’t like it. It’s a whole different game, you hear what’s going on in the benches and on the ice. They pump in the fake crowd noise which isn’t my favorite, but it does help the noise level because you can just hear everyone way too clear.”

Her first adventures on the ice didn’t start with the game of hockey, that took a little time. “I used to figure skate and I played ringette. I switched to hockey because ringette was kind of dying out when I was growing up. When I started hockey, it was a whole new perspective for me. I played minor hockey then high school. I started timekeeping in the high school leagues and that’s where my love of timekeeping really took off.”

Being from Selkirk, Chelsea says early on in her timekeeping career, her family did come to watch, perhaps at times begrudgingly. “They did not find it entertaining” she lets out a big laugh. “I’d say, ‘come watch me time keep’ and they’d just say ‘oh, that’s so boring'” Chelsea continues to laugh. “My brother is a ref and he works Junior B and MM, so we got to actually work together quite a bit, which was really cool.”

Despite not being into watching her time keep, Chelsea says her family had her back right from the start. “They were totally on board with it. It kept me out of trouble. I had my own money so I could buy my own stuff, which was nice for them. I got to watch hockey and when I’d go home, I’d talk about it and they just weren’t that into it.”

Being from and working in Selkirk, Chelsea says it’s great to see so many more women at the rink across the province. “It’s really, really cool. It’s great to see it getting the hype it really deserves.” One of those people is Steeler’s trainer/athletic therapist, Alison Deneweth. “I actually grew up just two houses away from Alison, I got to babysit her kids. Having her at the rink as an ally was always super helpful. Just knowing I could talk to her and knowing there are more women working in the sport, it’s really great to see. Even the higher levels, their hiring more females, whether it’s reporters, officials or crew members.”

More leagues continue to welcome more women into different roles and for Chelsea, she says it’s about time. “It’s great they’re getting the opportunities they do deserve. Actually, interviewing us and getting to know what we bring to the game and what we bring to the table. Just knowing there are a lot of women out there who can make a difference but maybe haven’t got a shot yet. It’ll come.”

Being set up in the middle area between the penalty boxes has made for some interesting situations for Chelsea. “Luckily, there are pieces of glass there,” she jokes. “But there is an opening, and some do like to lean over, and they’d get a little too close to me and at first, I’d just sit there and take it thinking, ‘okay, it’s okay, they’ll just get it out of their system’.  As I got more confident in the game, I’d actually snap back, tell them to sit down and be quiet. The refs have my back too, if they see guys yelling, they’ll bang on the glass to quiet them down and check if I’m okay. It’s a really great relationship between the officials on the ice and off.”

Not only is she doing games herself but she’s also preparing the next wave of timekeepers in Manitoba. “I teach and instruct at the Hockey Winnipeg Timekeeping Clinics, so I get a chance to express my passion for the young timekeepers. I tell them, you’re not going to get rich doing it but if you’re really passionate and you’re good at it, you’ll earn opportunities. Keep learning new things. If you’re in minor hockey doing the game sheet, track shots on goal, ask to do music, just getting more comfortable with the game. I like to express that to kids, and they think it’s pretty cool that I get to do games for the Moose.”

It was brought up on a past feature, the three-stick infraction rule, that Chelsea makes sure all young timekeepers are aware of. “I drill that into their little minds,” she says laughing. “I even made a summary sheet for people coming to the clinic. The most important things you’ll need to know whether it’s maximum penalties, maximum stick penalties, or mercy rule. I’ve tried, instead of overwhelming them, I just give them a sheet and hope it helps. I use it even today. It all depends on what level you’re working at and in every league, I’ve worked, they’ve all had a completely different set of rules. (The) refs really love it when you know what you’re doing and help them out. You can make their life a whole lot easier. It means a lot to me that when refs see me at the rink, they trust that they’re in good hands.”

Getting back to regular events is something she’s also really looking forward to. “I love the MJHL Showcases, it’s one of my main events I look forward to every year. Getting to see all the talent and the scouts come out to watch an amazing week of hockey. I’m going to continue with the Manitoba Moose as well.”

Perhaps one day, even the NHL. “I’d love to do the Jets games. I think that door is open for me. Hopefully, one day I can start with them and see where it goes.”