The older sister of Washington Capitals forward Anthony Mantha is the first woman to referee a game in the Q after refereeing in the Olympics and the AHL.

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Elizabeth Mantha received a rousing ovation recently when she skated for her warm-up laps before a junior hockey game in Blainville.

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The gesture seemed odd, given that fans of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League have been bawling at officials dating back to the days of Guy Lafleur, if not earlier. But spectators at the Sports Rousseau Center of Excellence on February 26 knew they were about to witness history.

Mantha, a 31-year-old from Longueuil, became the first female referee in QMJHL history. It came 10 days after appearing in the women’s bronze medal game at the Beijing Olympics and four months after appearing in an AHL game in late October between Laval and Rochester.

“I don’t hear much when I’m on the ice,” the endearing Mantha said in an interview this week at Colisée Jean Béliveau. “I enter a bubble and I do not hear what is happening in the stands. But I was surprised (by the reaction) for sure. It’s fun to see that some people appreciate our work.

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“The last few weeks have been a crazy roller coaster – a lot of dealing with emotions, pressure and interviews,” she added with a laugh. “You don’t do it to become a celebrity. It’s just amazing to be part of the whole movement of women getting hired and being the first in the Q.”

Women officials patrol the sidelines in the NFL and NBA. There are three NFL officials on the court, including referees Sarah Thomas and Maia Chaka, while six women work in professional basketball, including referee Danielle Scott. Mantha is one of 10 officials hired by the AHL, while the QMJHL hired Katerine Aubry-Hébert as its first scout this season. The Ontario and Western Canada junior leagues have female linesmen, but no referees.

“It was beyond time,” said AHL President Scott Howson, noting that Hayley Moore is already the league’s vice president (hockey operations). “They all excelled at their individual level. It was time to see if we could continue on the path of upward mobility, continue their growth and development.

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“Elizabeth behaved very well,” he added. “She has lived the experience of the Olympic Games, grew up in Canada and comes from a family of hockey players. The game probably comes a little more naturally to her than maybe to others. She has that sense of her, common sense and an understanding of the game.”

Older sister of Washington Capitals forward Anthony Mantha, Elizabeth was a blue hockey player at the University of Montreal for five seasons while developing the desire to referee. She started out in a garage league for college students a decade ago before launching her progression, first at the novice level before eventually moving up to triple-A midget and junior.

Mantha was hired by the AHL after attending a combine — the invite sat in her spam folder for two weeks before being alerted — and has worked four games this season. His next assignment arrives on March 18 in Laval. She also played two subsequent games in the QMJHL after receiving a call in December from Richard Trottier, the director of refereeing, gauging her interest.

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Mantha would work more, except she already has a full-time job in Montreal, where she is a 911 emergency services supervisor. She graduated from college with minors in criminology, law, and human resources and works obtaining a master’s degree in management.

Standing nearly 5ft 10in, Mantha said there were no physical limits to his work on the ice. And if there’s a fight — more common among juniors than in the AHL — it’s up to the linesmen to intervene. The pace, she says, is smoother in the minor league than in the QMJHL, where the game can be disorganized at times.

Mantha pointed out that nothing unusual happened in any of his games; no jokes from players or coaches, not even from the emotional Patrick Roy of the Quebec Remparts.

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“It was business as usual for him,” she said. “That’s what I want. I want to be seen as another referee, not a female official.

Nonetheless, Mantha is aware of her place in history and her role as a glass ceiling breaker as a trailblazer and role model. Although she hopes it will eventually lead to a job in the NHL, she will continue to follow her passion as long as it remains enjoyable. The rest is out of his control.

“It’s good to see that the barrier has been broken, that women can come in and be like me,” she said. “I just have to do my job every game, show (to the NHL) that I can do it. Then it’s their decision.

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