Former Carabins defender Elizabeth Mantha, a pioneer in the world of women’s hockey, is set to officiate at the Beijing Olympics.
Elizabeth Mantha shatters glass ceilings in the same style she displayed when she was piling up victories wearing the uniform of the University of Montreal Carabins: with dogged determination.
Mantha is a woman of firsts: the first woman to become a referee in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, one of the first to be a head official at the World Hockey Championships, and the first alumna of the Carabins hockey program to go to the Olympics.
The 31-year-old Longueuil native, who wore number 15 with the Carabins from 2011 to 2015, is one of 48 referees and linesmen who have just arrived in Beijing.
The woman who left her mark on the history of the Carabins and the history women’s hockey talked about her memories of playing with the Carabins and shared her excitement about traveling to the Chinese capital.
What do you remember about your time at UdeM?
I have fond memories. I really enjoyed all of my classes. I earned a bachelor’s degree by completing three certificates—criminology, law and industrial relations.
However, the most memorable part was obviously playing hockey with the Carabins. That’s where my main circle of friends came from. The atmosphere was something special. Throughout my playing career, we all kept in touch. We had some great years, we won several Quebec and Canadian championships. In the four years I was there, we medalled four times at the Canadian championships.
The players had a bond and we’re good friends to this day. The same goes for the coaches, Isabelle Leclaire and Danièle Sauvageau. They instilled in us human values that go beyond hockey. They truly were mentors. They understood that performing on the ice was one thing but our studies and aspirations were important too. For example, when I had a chance to referee, Isabelle would encourage me to go. Not every coach would have agreed to me refereeing while I was playing. But, thanks to her, I was able to progress in my officiating career.
Do you still feel a connection to the Carabins?
I sure do! But of course, I’m neutral when I referee their games. In any event, I don’t know anyone on the team personally anymore. But the Carabins are a family and I will always be part of it.
For example, when former players are invited to games at the beginning of the season, we all try to go, to keep in touch. During the pandemic, I continued training at the CEPSUM. Isabelle let me skate, depending on the girls’ schedules.
What made you interested in refereeing?
At first, it was the Carabins’ defensive coach, Pascal Daoust, who gave me an opportunity to referee in the UdeM’s garage leagues in the evenings after our practices or on weekends. It was a chance to make a bit of money.
Then, when I was playing, I started watching the referees more and more closely, trying to learn from them; it really caught my attention. So much so that one day Pascal took me aside and said I wasn’t focused on the game anymore! I like fairness, when things are equal for everyone, and I like being part of the solution.
After all my years of sport studies—5 years in high school, 3 in Cégep, 5 in university—I had been around the track and that was what my career choices came down to.
What do you expect at the Olympics?
I’m feeling a mix of stress and excitement. I’m not really stressed about the hockey, but about the health situation and the political situation, which is complicated. But I’m really looking forward to it. I’ve been aiming for this for years, and now I’m finally here!
Now that you’ve reached your goal, what’s next?
I used to say to myself: “I’m aiming for the Olympics in 2022, I’ll be 31 years old, and then maybe I’ll retire and start a family.” But here we are in 2022 and I’m not ready to stop!
Last summer, I didn’t know that all these great jobs would come my way this year, so I’m thinking maybe the future holds more wonderful surprises. I’ll continue refereeing and I’ll see where life takes me.
Those jobs break many glass ceilings in the world of sport, especially in women’s hockey. Are you proud to be a role model for so many girls?
I didn’t realize it at first, that I had that kind of influence. I’m learning to love this role and to want to do more, so that girls have even more opportunities. The media attention also helps, not just for hockey but for all sports. We have good momentum now to democratize women’s sports for future generations.