From the Crease to the Lines, Brenda Reinen Makes an Impact
A standout goaltender on two national championship teams with Minnesota, Reinen turned to officiating to stay involved in the game she loves.
A standout goaltender on two national championship teams with Minnesota, Reinen turned to officiating to stay involved in the game she loves.

By Bill Brophy, Special to

MADISON, Wi. – When she played goalie at the University of Minnesota, whether she liked it or not, she was the focus of a lot of attention. Now, Brenda Reinen is quite happy if she works a Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA) Women's League game and no one notices her.

That's what happens when you go from a player on a national championship team into a linesman who has worked in national tournament games and league championships. It is a transition that Reinen would like to see more of from today's players.

"I am not sure why more players don't stay in the game and officiate. It's fun. It is staying involved," said Reinen outside the officials' locker room at LaBahn Arena. "It is a good question why more don't stay involved."

Reinen is one of six female officials – one referee and five linesmen – among the 35 officials who will work WCHA women's games this season, said Greg Shepherd, the league's supervisor of officials. Before taking up the issue of how to get more female officials – a goal of Shepherd's and WCHA Women's League Commissioner Katie Million – here is Reinen's story.

Brenda began her hockey career at age four and played boys hockey growing up. She spent two years as the goalie on varsity and was one of 13 seniors on Steve Hanrahan's Sun Prairie team. "I also played girls hockey with the Challengers, an all-girls team which is now the Madison Capitals, but I knew if I wanted to get better, I had to play with the boys," said Reinen. "I didn't want to leave the high school game."

She figured it would allow her to improve her game so that she might get noticed by a college team. While the hometown Wisconsin Badgers didn't come calling, Minnesota did.

"To be honest, Wisconsin didn't want me, but I got a call from Minnesota and asked to come for a visit," said Reinen, who ended up playing four wonderful years for Coach Laura Halldorson and the Gophers, while her parents maintained their Badger allegiance. "My parents never stayed in Minneapolis. They stayed in Hudson all four years when they came to my games. It was the same routine every weekend – the same hotel in Hudson and a 30-minute drive for them to the rink."

They saw Reinen win a lot. She posted a 36-3-5 record at Minnesota from 2001-05 with a .934 save percentage and a career 1.58 goals-against average. Reinen was a part of four Frozen Four teams, three WCHA conference championships and two national championships. She played 17 games as a freshman, had a couple injury-plagued seasons and then split time with Jody Horak her senior year, going 12-0-0 in 2004-05.

"Horak was better than me," Reinen recalled. "If we were playing Wisconsin or Minnesota Duluth, she played. I played in the other games. That was a good team."

It featured two of the best players in WCHA history. Krissy Wendell had 43 goals and 104 points and won the Patty Kazmaier Award that season, while Natalie Darwitz had 42 goals, 72 assists and 114 points. Kelly Stephens was third on the team in scoring, and she had 33 goals and 76 points. In 2004-05, the Gophers had an overall record of 36-2-2. Its mark in the WCHA was 25-1-2. From the beginning of the season to the end, the Gophers were ranked No. 1.

But Reinen's favorite season was the year before, another national championship team. "We beat Harvard in Providence. The crew we had that year with the seniors and the captains was great. The whole season was fun, but to send them out with a ring, it was perfect."

After her playing career, Reinen knew she wanted to stay in hockey, so she contacted Larry Carrington, who heads the Madison Officials Association, and petitioned to officiate some youth hockey games, just like she had done while in high school. "While in high school, I did it to make extra money and ice time," said Reinen. "When I got back from college I told them 'I want back in' because I wanted to stay in the game."

Her officiating career was put on hiatus when Reinen gave birth to her daughter nine years ago. But she returned to the ice and refereed high school and Division III games. Her work caught the eye of Jeff Sauer, who was helping Shepherd look for young officials, and the Hall of Fame hockey coach recommended that Brenda should work the lines in the WCHA. She has been in the league for seven years, most of the time paired with Dan Fitzsimmons on games at LaBahn Arena.

Reinen is 34 and the mother to her daughter and 17-year-old stepson. For 11 ½ years she has been a member of the Dane County Sheriff's Office and much of that time has been at the Dane County jail in downtown Madison.

"There are similarities to being a referee," she says with a grin. "You have to learn to be yelled at a lot. Hockey players are not like inmates. If you have people scrumming, you have to learn to talk to them nice and calm. That works better than just screaming at them. In both jobs, you have to make them follow the rules.

"I also tell people my hockey career prepared me for my job afterwards. As a backup goalie, I opened doors to let my teammates on the ice. Now I go to jail, I am still opening doors to let the inmates out on occasion."

Reinen says people skills are one of the traits of a good official, "but you also have to be able to skate, know the rules and have the ability to have fun. It's a game. Be serious when you have to be, but you should have fun out there and have a good partner. You can't have better partners than I have worked with."

Reinen said officiating at big events is similar to playing in a big game. "I know when I worked the 'Fill the Bowl game' at the Kohl Center, I had chills and I wasn't playing. No one was here to watch me, but the opportunity all those kids had to play in front of that crowd, it was awesome."

So why aren't more women going into officiating?

"We used to have nine or 10 female officials, but some left because they started a family, or they couldn't take time away from their jobs,'' Shepherd said. "More girls are playing, but fewer are staying in the game to officiate. We need to find people who are ready to work in D-I hockey. The question is, where are they?"

Shepherd said he scouts high school games and Division III college games in search of officials. His son Derek, who works as a referee supervisor in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference, held a camp for young, aspiring officials in Eagan, Minn. last summer. There were two women at the camp.

Reinen said in Madison the minor officials talk to the WCHA captains near the end of the season and encourage the players to consider staying in the game as an official. "They kind of shrug their shoulders and say 'maybe, we'll see,'" said Reinen. "I don't know why they don't want to go into it. For me there was no doubt. It was fun. Plus, I knew I wasn't good enough to keep playing. Now there are few more leagues for girls to play in, but this is a way to do something with the game. I knew I wanted to stay involved.

"Locally, we try to bring girl officials to camps and get more experience. When you see someone at camp, you can mentor them. But you have to encourage more girls to get into it."

Reinen had surgery on both hips six months ago. She feared her days in stripes may be over.

"I didn't know if could do it this year because I had surgery in April on my hips. Goaltending kicked my butt physically," said Reinen, who admitted she thinks officiating is almost as much as fun as playing college hockey.

"This is a close second," she said. "I know I will do it until my hips give out."