With the city of Halifax, N.S., having been named original host of the 2021 IIHF Women’s World Championships, Cianna Lieffers had been among the individuals named to the officiating crew. Although the future of the event was a topic of speculation, eventually being cancelled for the second straight year due to the pandemic, it was then rescheduled to Hockey Canada's home arena in Calgary, Alta. In the midst of COVID-19 continuing to rattle the globe, the world championship event organizers arranged a very strict bubble format to keep everyone on and off the ice as healthy and safe as possible.
Besides almost dropping the puck for women's worlds in Halifax, for Lieffers, there was another unique Atlantic connection in her officiating experience. Having earned Hockey Canada’s Level 5 Certification at the age of just 23, she earned that milestone in Moncton, N.B. The criteria involved a pair of on-ice evaluations, on-ice skate testing, and a written examination, along with physical off-ice testing. Of note, the on-ice testing saw Lieffers work a pair of U SPORTS contests.
The first Canadian university match-up that she officiated involved a Nov. 22, 2017 affair between the St. Francis Xavier University X-Women and the Saint Mary's University Huskies, an eventual 3-0 victory for the X-Women. The second match saw the University of Prince Edward Island, the host team for the 2019 and 2020 U SPORTS women's hockey national championships, prevail by a 3-2 mark over the Dalhousie University Tigers.
Following it up with an opportunity to officiate the 2020 Youth Olympic Hockey Games in Lausanne, Switzerland, this marked a unique brush with history for Lieffers. Of note, the first week of the Games saw a three-on-three tournament featuring eight teams with players from mixed countries participating, including a two-referee system. Team Yellow would prevail in the gold medal game, defeating Team Black by a 6-1 tally for the gold, while Team Blue edged Team Brown in a 6-4 final for the bronze. Worth noting, it was not uncommon to see Lieffers on the ice for at least three games a day.
The following week, a tournament with six nations, including Germany, Slovakia, and Sweden in Group A, along with the Czech Republic, Japan, and Switzerland in Group B, saw Lieffers serve in the capacity of the head referee. Capturing its first-ever gold medal in an Olympic ice hockey competition, Japan bested Sweden in a convincing 4-1 triumph, a contest that Lieffers was proud to officiate.
“I was honoured to be selected by the IIHF to officiate at the 2020 Youth Olympic Games. This was an amazing event that allowed me to work with officials and supervisors from all around the world. The 17 days spent in Lausanne, Switzerland were incredible," Lieffers recalled.
"Events like these are truly amazing, as they bring together people from various different countries. This was the first year that they had the three-on-three events at the Youth Olympics and this allowed for individual players to represent their country at the Olympic level. The second week was the 6 Nations tournament. It was a great experience to be there for both events and I was honoured to be selected to work the gold medal game for both championships," she added.
In addition to officiating world-class events in Canada and Switzerland, Lieffers has also graced the ice in regions that may be considered highly unlikely for hockey. From an international perspective, the cities of Dumfries, Scotland, and Mexico City, signified key assignments in Lieffers' sojourn.
Representing her first two experiences working as an official internationally, Dumfries served as the host city for the 2019 IIHF U18 Women’s World Championship, Division 1, Group B. Featuring China, France, host Great Britain, the Netherlands, Norway and Poland, Lieffers officiated the last game featuring tournament champion France.
Mexico City actually represented the preliminary stage in the women’s qualification for the 2018 Olympic Winter Games. Played from Oct. 7 to 9, 2016, all games contested at the Ice Dome, the winner advanced to the second preliminary round. Featuring host Mexico, Turkey, and Hong Kong, Lieffers worked with fellow Canadian Marie-Pierre Jalbert as linesman, while American Jestina Vichorek served as referee, in a 13-0 victory for Mexico over Hong Kong.
Of note, Mexico outshot Hong Kong 55-1, as Ying Chi Virginia Wong and Nga Sze Chau performed valiantly. Coincidentally, one of the game’s participants also holds a unique connection to Prairie Canada. Mexican assistant captain Claudia Tellez was drafted by the Calgary Inferno of the Canadian Women's Hockey League in the 8th round of the 2016 CWHL Draft.
“I have been very fortunate to have had some amazing travel opportunities to officiate hockey. My first taste of international hockey was as a linesman in Mexico City for an Olympic Qualifier. This was very exciting as it was my first international event. My second event was as a referee in Dumfries, Scotland," Lieffers said.
"The countries that host have spent countless hours preparing for these events and the support from the volunteers and fans demonstrate this. It really is awesome to see the support and love for hockey in these countries. Regardless of where you go or what language is spoken, you’re all there for the same reason -- and that’s hockey.
"These international opportunities have combined two of my passions: hockey and travelling (as I have spent two summers backpacking South East Asia and South America). I will be forever grateful for the memories, travel opportunities, and lifelong friends that hockey has given me!”
Before Lieffers would take to the ice at Calgary’s WinSport Arena, part of a 12-person crew of referees which included fellow Canadians Elizabeth Mantha, Shauna Neary, and Lacey Senuk at the 2021 IIHF Women’s Worlds, she remained active despite a significant period without games due to pandemic concerns. Providing valuable insights as an on-ice instructor for the SHA’s Officiating Development Program, instilling encouragement and confidence, a pair of Lieffers colleagues in Calgary were equally inspirational.
Among four women that officiated the very historic Elite Women's three-on-three event at the 2020 NHL All-Star Weekend in St. Louis, referee Kelly Cooke and linesman Kendall Hanley also donned the zebra stripes in Calgary. Their shared milestone in 2020 was one that made national news, providing an exciting impact not lost on the likes of Lieffers, pursuing her dreams with the goal to attain higher summits.
“Absolutely this is inspiring and motivates me to continue to work hard and achieve my goals as an official to one day work a women’s Olympic tournament," she said.
In preliminary round play at the 2021 IIHF Women’s Worlds, Lieffers graced the ice for a pair of contests in Group A play, while enjoying one appearance involving action from Group B. Of note, Lieffers enjoyed a brush with history twice, officiating Hungary's debut in the top tier, along with Hilary Knight's milestone goal versus Russia’s Anna Prugova, becoming the tournament's all-time leader in goals scored.
Additionally, Lieffers served as one of the referees for Finnish star Petra Nieminen’s sterling performance, recording a hat trick versus Switzerland. In the elimination round, Lieffers worked a pair of games featuring Finland, including the pulse-pounding 1-0 win versus the Czech Republic.
Despite the emptiness of the arena, blanketed by the bright lights above, and the stream of echoes, the moment the puck drops, the game's practitioners, combining skill and craft, compose an insightful chapter in the game's history. The results are a compelling narrative, one that resulted in ratings gold, demonstrating how hockey in August still holds the potential to tug at the heartstrings outside of its normal winter season.
“Even though there were no fans allowed in the bubble, I still had an enormous amount of support from back home of people watching the games on TV," Lieffers said. "It was amazing to see all the coverage that TSN had on the championship and being on home soil, we did not face the time change that we usually have when officiating overseas.
"All in all, this was such a wonderful and unique championship, and I am so grateful for the opportunity to have officiated on a world stage at home," she added.
"It was an experience I will not forget and one that I will cherish forever. I know that years from now, there will be many memories from “in the Calgary bubble.”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”
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