Since the very introduction of hockey to Newfoundland and Labrador, the sport has been blessed with a very large number of very qualified and very dedicated officials.
An excellent indication of the officiating efficiency is the fact that provincial hockey has required relatively few referees-in-chief.
Joe Smith of St. John’s was the first top referee from 1948 to 1952 when Ralph Colyer of Buchans was made referee-in-chief.
Quebec City native Joe Byrne, who came into the province as a player and then coached, served as referee-in-chief for 17 years from 1954 to 1956, from 1959 to 1961, and from 1966 to 1977. Byrne lived in Grand Falls-Windsor but spent a couple of seasons with Bell Island hockey.
Ted Withers of St. John’s filled the top position for 1957 and 1958, while John Doyle, also from St. John’s, was top official from 1962 to 1965.
Ray Bowe, a player who was born in The Goulds but grew up in Gander, was referee-in-chief for 23 years, from 1977 to 2000. Prior to assuming the provincial position, Bowe served as Canadian Armed Forces referee-in-chief for eight years after a productive career as a player. Jim Hare, a native of Nova Scotia and an RCMP officer, took over as referee-in-chief in 2000.
Bowe established the position of “Supervisor of Officials.” Len Butt, George Thorne, Wayne Mercer and Don Kelly have filled that position. It was under Bowe that a new program of rankings for officials came into the province in 1978. Bowe, Bill Abbott of St. John’s, John Kelly of Labrador City, Gerald Hall of Lourdes and Gerard Hayes of St. John’s rose to the highest level, six, under the program.
Laurie Powers and Dewar Judson of Nova Scotia were brought into the province for the 1954 and 1955 provincial senior championships, working with local linesmen.
The name of Herb Coultas should have a special place in hockey officiating within Newfoundland and Labrador. After an exceptional playing career early in the century, Coultas became a referee and records indicate that he was the man with the whistle for an extremely large number of important games in the 1920s and 1930s.
W.J. Higgins, Edward “Key” Kennedy and Harold Gross were other early referees in the St. John’s area. Higgins officiated games around 1910.
It was in 1962 that Toronto Maple Leafs great Frank “King” Clancey was instructor for the first provincial officials’ clinic featuring an instructor from outside the province. The clinic was held in Gander and attracted a very large number of officials from all over the province.
Four officials from Newfoundland and Labrador have been recognized by being invited to call plays at the international level. Jim Vail was a linesman at the 1992 Asian Oceanic junior championship in Japan, and Ted Murphy was a linesman at the 2000 world junior D championship in Mexico. Joe Byrne officiated at the 1977 Isvestia tournament in Russia, and Gerard Hayes was a referee at a 1994 Canada-USA invitational junior tournament in Mexico.
The first female referee in Newfoundland and Labrador was Janet Reddy, who received her first national refereeing assignment for the female competition at the 1999 Canada Winter Games in Corner Brook.
The arrival of the American Hockey League’s St. John’s Maple Leafs in 1990 necessitated local officials filling the linesman positions for the professional games. Local AHL linesmen included Gerard Hayes, Foster Williams, Tom Mercer, Kevin Penney, Jim Vail, Todd Strickland, Sean LeFresne, Ted Murphy and Joe Maynard.
During the 1993-94 National Hockey League officials strike, Gerard Hayes refereed two American Hockey League games, thus becoming the first Newfoundlander to referee a professional hockey game.
While these individuals served at the top of the officiating ladder, there were thousands of individuals who served at the local levels in the variety of capacities required to make referees and linesmen available to hockey leagues everywhere.
The introduction of minor hockey programs in every area of the province created a demand for an exceptionally high number of qualified officials, and also generated the very large number of individuals who were qualified to call these games.