The Estevan Minor Hockey Association is dealing with a shortage of officials as hockey season kicks into full gear.

Stephen Truman, an executive with the EMHA, believes it is a province-wide issue, but he's seen it first-hand in Estevan.

"On the local level, we're definitely seeing a shortage of officials," Truman said. "Biggest area of concern for us right now is our intermediate officials, so those are anybody that's in the 16-20-year-old range, we're only sitting with four officials right now, so it's making it hard on our younger groups to try and get proper officials for those games."

Truman said they haven't had to cancel any games yet, but the shortage does impact tournaments.

"One of the biggest problems is it's cutting down on our tournament weekends. If Estevan Minor Hockey wants to host a large tournament, now we have to fill anywhere from 10-20 plus hockey games to accommodate that tournament for the really puts a strain on our officials."

"It's tough. Without new officials coming through the ranks, it's only going to get worse before it gets better."

Truman said the pandemic could certainly be a contributing factor to the shortage, but he also knows being a referee in any sport is no easy assignment.

"Let's face it being an official in any sport at any level can be kind of an unforgiving task. All we can do is try and support these officials. We want it to be a positive experience for everyone and maybe some of our younger officials haven't had that positive experience that they needed in the past. We'd like to improve on anything that we can to encourage the atmosphere," he said.

Truman said his association is mindful of ways that they might be able to attract and retain more officials, including having an officiating director on the board--a position they haven't filled in several years--along with mentors.

"There's always a place in our minor hockey association to have anyone that is familiar with the sport and feels they can offer something to mentor young officials, that would be great," he said.

And for all of its challenges, Truman said there are also many rewarding aspects to being a referee. 

"It's another way to get on the ice, and you're learning more about the game you love while you're officiating games. You could be out there refereeing or officiating one of your friend's games, you don't know. It's a good way to get exercise and be a part of the game at all levels for sure," he said.

With female officials starting to make inroads in some of the higher leagues, including the Western Hockey League, Truman is encouraging more females to get involved in officiating locally as well.

He also said there are officiating clinics that are ongoing around the province.

Anyone who wants to become an official can visit Hockey Saskatchewan's website for instructions.