Diane Dillon needed her dad to start a team to get an opportunity to play hockey as a kid in the 1970s, so to see one of her former players recently break barriers and become one of the first women to officiate at the NHL pre-training camp level has been a rewarding development for the Oswego State women’s hockey coach.
Kendall Hanley — a 2009 Oswego State graduate that played two seasons for the women’s hockey program in the early stages of its re-launch — recently worked as an official for the NHL Prospect Tournament in Traverse City, Mich., hosted by the Detroit Red Wings.
Hanley was one of four women selected for the prospect tournaments along with Katie Guay, Kelly Cooke and Kirsten Welsh.
“It’s just a great honor and privilege to be a part of that along with the three other women selected,” said Hanley, a native of Raleigh, N.C. who now lives in Minneapolis. “There were 11 of us at the combine just a few weeks prior and that was a great group as well, so it’s clear that the NHL is taking the initiative and opening doors and pathways for women. They’re looking for the best officials regardless of gender, so just to be a part of that was pretty unreal and I’m grateful for that opportunity.”
Hanley officiated four games during the tournament, which lasted from Sept. 6-10 and featured eight teams consisting of NHL hopefuls aiming to impress scouts to earn an invitation to training camp.
Hanley, who is entering her 12th season as a full-time hockey official, worked with a group of referees from the ECHL and said she was impressed by the professional nature of the event staff and all the volunteers working the tournament.
“It was a really awesome opportunity to skate with these guys and I was just a part of the team,” Hanley said. “That was another amazing aspect, you just want to go in there and be treated like any other official, and I was.”
Hanley’s first major break came when she was invited to the NHL Exposure Combine this past March, which is a three-day training event for prospective officials in Buffalo. She was one of 11 women and 96 officials to receive an invite and from there, was encouraged to apply for a spot in the rookie showcases.
Hanley described the combine as “intense,” and said the three days included a litany of testing on and off the ice. Attendees were assigned to teams to play games while others officiated and then they would rotate, so there were a few instances where Hanley finished playing a game, quickly changed into her official’s gear, and then stepped back on the ice to ref the next game.
“It’s a very intense three days but a great opportunity to meet a lot of folks who are passionate about officiating and the staff that the NHL brings in, all their managers and a few of the guys who had just been hired full time were there on the ice with us, so you can ask them questions kind of on the fly,” Hanley said. “That was really pretty amazing to be out there and be able to have those one-on-one conversations as you’re skating up and down the ice working the game, it was pretty unreal.”
According to the Associated Press, Hanley and the three other women selected are the first to officiate an NHL Preseason tournament, which could be the next step toward female officials working regular-season NHL games.
“When I think about those humble beginnings to now having female officials working some NHL prospects games, and hopefully some day, moving up the ranks and going into higher levels like what’s happening in the NFL, it’s really exciting and it’s exciting to see it in my lifetime,” Dillon said. “I think women have worked very, very hard, and there have been a lot of people, men and women, who have supported them in this endeavor and it’s great to see women excelling in that part of the sporting world.”
Hanley — who said she became enamored with hockey as a preteen after watching the New York Rangers win the 1994 Stanley Cup — transferred to Oswego from Elmira to finish her NCAA Division III hockey career because of the school’s zoology program and her previous connection to Dillon through her high school recruitment.
Soon after graduating from Oswego, Hanley moved to Dallas for an internship at the Dallas Zoo and met a friend while living there who was officiating college hockey games and sparked her interest.
“I was going to go down to Dallas to do my internship and then I kind of fell into this pathway that I hadn’t totally thought about,” Hanley said. “Then I kind of got into and learned about it, met a lot of great people and fell in love with it. It was a new challenge and I like challenges, I’m a competitive person.”
Hanley officiated in the Dallas area for six years before re-locating to Minneapolis.
“I was really lucky to land where I did and get started where I was because of the support system that I had down there,” Hanley said. “There were a ton of men and women there that mentored me that just really helped support and encourage me in those first few years, and those are the people that I’m very grateful to have had because who knows where I could have ended up. I think about them every time I hit the ice.”
In the dozen years since, Hanley has officiated at a variety of levels from youth to adult. She frequently works regional NCAA Division I and III women’s games, and has officiated for the IHSL, the National Women’s Hockey League, various USA Hockey leagues and is part of the USA Hockey Officiating Development Program.
Hanley is unsure when the next opportunity might come or what shape it may take, but said she believes she is prepared for anything after her recent experiences. Hanley also works for a small company in Minneapolis that makes fresh food for pets, and operates a dog-walking business on the side.
Hanley credited Dillon and her two seasons in the Oswego program (2007-2009) for helping thrust her into her current direction. Dillon has exchanged text messages with Hanley to congratulate her achievement and said the former star transfer frequently checks in to talk about the Lakers and other happenings in the game.
“I was extremely proud of her and frankly, not surprised, because Kendall has worked very, very hard,” Dillon said. “She’s got the perfect temperament to be an official, so I was really pleased for her and for women in general and the breakthrough.”