January 24, 2014
By Mike Killeen
Like a lot of fans, Sara Anderson Lindstrom will be watching the women's hockey competition at the upcoming Sochi Winter Olympics.
But her focus won't entirely be on Team USA players like Hilary Knight, Amanda Kessel or Anne Schleper.
She'll be watching the on-ice officials.
Lindstrom, a 2007 graduate of CSB, is a licensed International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) official, one of about 20 women in the U.S. who can work IIHF-sanctioned games. One of her long-range goals is to officiate at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
"I have skated with all three (American) women who are officiating at the Sochi Olympics this year, so I'll be watching them closely," Lindstrom said of referee Erin Blair and linesmen Alicia Hanrahan and Laura Johnson. "It's exciting to see people you have worked side-by-side with reach their goals and be working at such a high level.
"You get to know a lot of the players over time from small chats at faceoffs and TV time outs, so it's always nice to see familiar faces while watching, too. I'll be watching both the players and the officials, but probably more the officials," Lindstrom said.
Lindstrom, after all, had an early preview to the Olympics when she worked as a linesman at a Team USA-Team Canada exhibition game Dec. 20 in Grand Forks, N.D. In that game — won by the Americans, 4-1 — the two rivals combined for 270 penalty minutes.
"Any time the U.S. plays Canada, there is a lot of rivalry and intensity, so you have to be at the top of your game," Lindstrom said. "It's never fun breaking up fights, as we (officials) have less protective equipment on than the players, but it is part of the job."
Originally from Cook, Minn., Lindstrom played wing and center at Hibbing High School.
"My brother (Matt Anderson, who is a linesman in the WCHA) initially got me interested in reffing. He started officiating and then I got curious and thought I would give it a try," said Lindstrom, who has officiated for about 15 years. "To this day, my brother still keeps me striving to be better and keeps me in check."
She came to CSB and played hockey for one season, but decided "to really start pursuing officiating at this time to stay involved with hockey for the remainder of college," said Lindstrom, who was a nutrition science major at CSB.
Lindstrom, who had started her officiating career at the younger levels of USA Hockey (mites, squirts and peewees), began officiating high school games when she was still a student at CSB, and was "fortunate" to get hired at the Division I college level her first year out of college. She served as a linesman for WCHA women's games for five seasons.
She has been licensed to work IIHF games for the last three seasons.
"To obtain an IIHF license, you typically work within USA Hockey and are invited to numerous week-long events including national tournaments and different development camps," Lindstrom said. "Eventually, you are invited along with a handful of peers to work a week-long camp utilizing the IIHF handbook. From that experience select participants are given an IIHF license based on performance.
"So, I guess I didn't decide to become licensed, I was lucky enough to get the opportunity to try out, and I chose to put the time and work to get the opportunity. Ultimately, knowing I would love to work internationally and hopefully someday the Olympics, I'd have to get licensed by the IIHF.
Lindstrom has cut back on her Division I officiating commitment due to her marriage to Michael Lindstrom and full-time job (she works for the Ramsey County Women, Infants and Children Program, a nutrition program that serves low income families). She is now working Division III games in the MIAC and WIAC as a referee because the game sites are closer to home, along with high school and USA Hockey games.
She knows it is a hard job. Poor treatment by players, coaches and fans have caused retention rates to dip among officials.
"It's hard when you are first starting out to take the flak from coaches, parents and fans," Lindstrom said. "I think over time as your confidence and experience grow, you learn to take certain things with a grain of salt. I was fortunate enough to have my brother to 'bounce' situations off and share stories of what had happened at the rink to reassure me. Knowing that he, as an advanced official, dealt with and deals with the same things keeps me motivated.
"I hope I am a role model for some of the younger officials, male or female. I try to put my best foot forward whether it is a youth or a college game as you never know who will be watching. Every time you step on the ice, you always have something to learn from older or younger officials, and if I am able to help anyone else along the way, it's an accomplishment for the officiating community."