Written by: Matt Johnson for Sask Sport
It all started in an Enterprise Rent-A-Car.
In the fall of 2015, Alex Clarke was simply renting a car for work and so was Ryan Lundquist, the then manager of officiating with Sask Hockey.
“He had a jacket on with the referee division crest, so I just kind of went up to him and started a conversation,” said Clarke. “Funny enough, that’s how a lot of my opportunities would come about.”
When Clarke mentioned her extensive hockey background, including a four-year NCAA career at the College of St. Scholastica and three seasons with the Weyburn Golden Wings (U18 AAA), Lunquist’s interest quickly peaked.
Knowing she wanted to stay involved in the game, a quick conversation led her to where she is today.
After receiving officiating assignments at various levels across Saskatchewan hockey for six years, in the last couple of months Clarke has climbed the ranks in a big way. This August, she officiated at her first IIHF World Women’s Hockey Championship in Calgary, became the first female to officiate a Western Hockey League (WHL) game and was recently announced as one of10 females to officiate in the American Hockey League (AHL) during the 2021-22 season.
Safe to say, her post-playing career has turned out alright.
I’m so grateful to be opening doors and bringing down barriers that are going to allow other females opportunities in the future and allow them the opportunity to see it and know they can work toward it.Alex Clarke on what her officiating opportunities in 2021 mean to other women
While Clarke has yet to receive her first official assignment for an AHL game, she will be based out of Winnipeg and expects to make her debut in the second-half of November upon returning from Finland where she will officiate a three-game series between the Canadian and Finnish women’s national teams.
November has the potential to be a big month for Clarke. On top of her AHL debut, she will find out if she’s been chosen to officiate at the upcoming 2022 Olympic Games in Beijing, a goal she’s had at the top of her mind for quite some time.
“In the past for females, the Olympics was the highest you could ever make it,” she said. “So for me, it’s still that same mentality. That’s the goal. That’s the top of the female officiating that you can get to. I’ve been working so hard for it for so long.”
But the Olympics aren’t the proverbial end in the road anymore. And her recent assignments are showing that.
“I’m so grateful to be opening doors and bringing down barriers that are going to allow other females opportunities in the future and allow them the opportunity to see it and know that they can work towards it,” said Clarke.
“Now girls are going to be able to see females in the WHL and know that it is an opportunity.”
Clarke admits not having the chance to officiate in the WHL bubble in Regina last year was disappointing, but her confidence didn’t necessarily wane. She knew that the opportunity for female officials could be on the horizon with continued development of skill.
“There were moments of doubt where it was disheartening to see people that I felt I was closely in line with to get opportunities and me not. But that’s also what fuels my fire is knowing that I’m close and knowing that it can be done,” said Clarke.
“For me, that’s when I saw it as ‘these are the officials that are getting the opportunities and I’m not far off their development. If I take the next nine months to really hone in on my own development, I can be there.’”
Now she is there.
Clarke believes that coming from a small town in Saskatchewan didn’t provide any disadvantage to her hockey dreams and now, she’s a bit of a celebrity..
“It’s just another piece of the story. It doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from,” said Clarke. “The whole being a female entering a male-dominated industry, it’s being a mom and making it work, it’s being from a small town and getting somewhere, it’s all a part of the same story. I think that it definitely is a piece of who I am.
“Lately, I’ve been a bit of a celebrity,” joked Clarke. “There’s not a lot of news in Drake, Saskatchewan and I’ve been a piece of it in the last few months.” It’s pretty clear why. And it’s a story that feels like it’s just getting started.