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Celebrating women in the MJHL | Kaylah Turner (Krieger)

Story by Dave Anthony

Kaylah Turner (Krieger) – MJHL Linesperson

Growing up in Melville, Saskatchewan, Kaylah says she didn’t take to hockey right away but eventually found her way into the game. “At first, I was actually a speed skater. I think I did that for about 12 years or something. I think I started playing hockey when I was 15 and just through graduation, it was just a couple years. It wasn’t good hockey, it was really just to play.”

It was while playing Kaylah decided to try her hand in officiating. “I was 16 when I stated reffing. I needed some extra cash, and it was also a good way to be on the ice, so I figured ‘why not?’.”

When she started reffing, she says it was mostly the boys because, “there were only two girls’ teams so I was usually pretty much always playing in one of the girl’s games” she says laughing. “So, it was mostly boys, but it wouldn’t have mattered, it was whatever was available.”

Kaylah laughed when she was thinking about to how the boys would have responded to a female official, mainly because as she puts it, “in the younger years, I don’t think they even realized” she chuckles. “As I worked my way up in the league, they noticed it was different, that it was a girl out there. But really, after the first few puck drops it didn’t matter, the game was on. It didn’t matter who was out there, it was all about the game.”

At the very beginning of the conversation, Kaylah was asked if she preferred linesperson or linesmen and to her, it makes no difference, though she did say linesperson when first asked. “You know, I’m surprised I said that to be totally honest” she said laughing. “I never call it a linesperson, it’s always linesman. The terminology has never bothered me. I tend to air more on the original side, just because I don’t really want to draw attention to it. It’s just a term for what I’m doing. There’s no bones about it, I’m in a male dominated world. It is what is it. I’m not there to stand out, I’m there to do a job. It’s based on talent and knowledge, being a man or women doesn’t matter, it’s doing the job and earning your way.”

When it comes to finding a role-model in the officiating world, Kaylah didn’t have to look very far. “My brother Karlin was an official. I would say he’s the reason I started. He was starting to work his way up already, getting some cool games and some tournaments and he had a lot more spending money than I did and that wasn’t fair, so I had to go out and get some of my own.”

Following in her brother’s footsteps was met by great support from her parents. “They were so proud, very supportive and I wouldn’t ever say it was really a big deal. Sure, I was moving up in the league and yes, there was more of the male side of it, but it was the natural progression. There wasn’t really a lot of female hockey in our area. I’d have to go travel to find it. It really was just normal. It wasn’t a big deal, and it didn’t stand out in any way.”

Like all officials, it can be a grind to get up in the leagues. “I started with the novice and the atom games” she recalls. “I started to do more AA or even AAA. I moved my way up through the girl’s leagues to do the University games… then it’s the guys U17 AAA. You have to work for your opportunities. You have to show up and put the work in, even when it’s not convenient. I just worked my way up through the leagues, there’s no other ways around it.”

Officials, like players and coaches will always remember their first game in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League and for Kaylah, it was an unexpected yet wonderful turn of events that got her onto the ice for that first game.

“One game, they were short an official” Kaylah explains, her smile evident through the phone. “My brother happened to be doing the game and they said ‘hey, does your sister happen to have her bag and do you think she can she do it?’  That was how I got my first game. The next month, I had like six games. It was chance but obviously I was prepared. That’s how I got in the league.”

Standing on the redline in her first MJHL game, she admits to having some butterflies. “Oh gosh yes, I was so nervous” she says, again followed by a laugh. “But it always seemed that after that first puck drop, it becomes just a game. It doesn’t matter what league you’re in. The call is the call. The game is the game. You find you’re flow and you’re fine.”

Her brother was standing beside her for that first game, and it made it even more special for Kaylah. “My favorite memories have always been reffing with him. Being able to ref that first MJ game together, it was a really, really cool experience. It was just great to get to do that together.”

Being in the position she is in gives her a chance to inspire young girls and it’s something Kalyah really takes to heart. “For younger girls, I just want to encourage them to do anything they want to do. It doesn’t matter if you’re the only girl or not, if it’s your passion and you want to do it… and you’re willing to work hard enough to be there, absolutely go for it.”

There’s belief that women in the game continues to trend in a positive direction and Kaylah agrees. “I totally believe it’s only getting better. I have no complaints at all. I’ve had nothing but support through my whole experience. I think there are lots of other girls who have the potential to be there, and I hope they get the chances that I did. I hope it continues to grow.”

During breaks in play, she says there is a little time to interact with other women in the league that are now seen on many teams’ benches in different roles. “I’m not sure I’ve ever had the whole eye contact and the nod thing, but it’s so nice to have other women around. It brings a different prospective to the game, a different outlook. It puts the guys in check every once in a while. We show we know what we’re doing and how we can bring another spin to this.”

Leagues across the country are always looking for officials and coming off of COVID-19, Kaylah sees this as a real chance to get more young women into the sport. “I think there is always an opportunity for female officials. There’s so many tournaments and traveling, if you have any interest at all, you have a really, really good chance to do some amazing things.”

Kaylah hasn’t been at the rink as much as she’s accustomed too, but that hasn’t stopped her from working on her craft. “There’s actually been quite a push for the off-ice side of officiating. There’s been group calls and keeping everyone engaged which has been really cool. Other than that, I own a seasonal business where I’m typically off for the winter, so without reffing, it’s been different.”

It’s been a great journey and she’s hoping it will continue in the future. “I’m definitely proud of how far I’ve gotten. I’m happy with where I’m at. I’ve had some great experiences that I’ll remember forever. I don’t know what’s going to happen next. If I get an opportunity to move up, I’d be interested, sure. For now, I’m hoping to be able to help the next generation and if anyone wanted to reach out for advice on how to get where they want to go, I’d be more than willing to help them out.”

Thinking about getting back to work in the fall, Kaylah adds with that trademark laugh, “it would be awesome, that’s for sure.”