Carmen Massel makes history as first NLL official
Carmen Massel is a trailblazing history maker.
On December 29th, 2023, Massel became the first woman in league history to be on the officiating crew for an NLL game. Massel was the shot clock operator for the match between the San Diego Seals and the Rochester Knighthawks in San Diego that night. On Sunday, February 4th, Massel will make her return to action during the battle between the Seals and Colorado Mammoth. She will once again be the shot clock operator.
Growing up in Calgary, Alberta, Massel has always gravitated towards lacrosse. She played in her youth, and in 2008, not long after she began her playing career, she realized officiating games could be an excellent way to make some extra cash. The 12-year-old would spend some of her earnings on new lacrosse gear like gloves or a new stick.
A thorough, meticulous student of the game, Massel has approached her role as an official with purpose and unwavering dedication. After calling Minor games in Alberta for eight years, Massel officiated her first Rocky Mountain Lacrosse League (RMLL) game in 2016. In the following years, she worked RMLL Jr. A and Jr. B (Tier 1) games and major summer events such as the Bantam National Championships and the Gold Medal match of the Jr. Ladies Provincial tournament.
It was evident that Massel’s hard work and sacrifice was paying off. In the summer of 2022, Massel was invited to attend the NLL Officials Identification Camp in Ontario, Canada. Don Koharski, an NHL referee for over three decades, had recently been appointed the NLL’s Director of Officials. Koharski was tasked with finding the next batch of NLL referees that he felt were ready to get the call up to the big leagues, and Massel was chose.
At age 26, nearly 15 years after making her officiating debut in the Alberta Minor system, Massel was offered the opportunity of a lifetime to referee pro lacrosse games. Until her debut assignment in December, she had been learning the NLL ropes and shadowing other referees.
“I felt like I had already achieved everything I could achieve in lacrosse officiating,” Massel said. “It felt, over the years, that I was already pushing boundaries by doing things like working Jr. A games in the Rocky Mountain Lacrosse League (RMLL) or Jr. B Tier 1 because there had only been one other woman in [Alberta] who had done that, and that was way before my time.”
That other woman was Val Miles. Miles has long been a mentor to Massel, dating back to when Massel was transitioning from officiating Minor games to Jr. A and Jr. B assignments. Miles is a respected official in the province and has always been there to lend a helping hand to Massel.
“I was lucky enough to be in a place where I was able to see a female official ahead of me,” Massel said. “In other places, girls are still trying to break that barrier because maybe they haven’t seen anybody ahead of them and haven’t had that example.”
Miles has always been a supporter of Massel’s, but not because she’s a fellow woman in the industry. She believed that Massel had the skills to be a very good official. She was right.
“With Val, she never made it be like, ‘Well, you’re a girl, so you need to do this differently,’” Massel said. “It was just like, ‘You’re an official. If you want to be a good official, this is what you need to do.’ There’s a lot to be said that there’s no need to constantly acknowledge, ‘You’re a girl, you’re a girl, you’re a girl.”
Dallas Lister, who is now a referee in British Columbia during the summertime but was an official in Alberta for many years, is another woman who was a friend and supporter of Massel’s over the years.
Miles is just one of the officials who have helped Massel to this historic moment. Many of those who have aided her on her journey are also from Alberta: Todd Labranche, Joe Catalano, David Westwood and Lane Hartung.
Hartung and Massel traveled together to Koharski’s officials event in 2022. It was in Ontario that the two became good friends. Massel took a trip to Vancouver on December 16th for Hartung’s NLL game as an official.
“It’s awesome to see how lacrosse and officiating has progressed in our province,” Massel said. “We were kind of once maybe not thought of as being a hot-bed, or place that was producing great talent, but the more you look around the league, the people who are behind benches, guys who are on teams, and now the officials, there’s great Alberta representation.”
Massel gives it her all whenever she steps on the floor in pinstripes. It is a dream come true to be out there wearing the whistle, but it has come at a cost. Her tireless efforts covering the action up and down the floor have caused chronic issues to her feet and ankles. To date, Massel has had 11 surgeries on her lower extremities.
Her various injuries have inspired Massel to pursue a career in podiatry. She is in the first year of a seven-year track (four years of medical school and three years of residency) at Western University of Health Sciences in Pomona, CA, to become a foot doctor. By 2030, Massel will know how to fix the feet and ankle issues she’s endured.
Despite all that she’s been through physically from lacrosse and officiating, she has battled through it to be on the floor fulfilling her referee duties. Her steady and positive mindset has always kept her grounded and has helped her move forward in her career as an official. Massel has never been one to mold herself into being something she’s not. She puts her head down and tries her best at everything she does.
“I’m someone who wants to bring love, light, and positivity everywhere I go,” Massel said. “I don’t feel like… I have to be a certain way – I like to fight against those norms and push against those things in a lot of things I do.”
Massel is the first woman to be a referee in the NLL, but she will not be the last. Her journey to the professional box lacrosse officiating ranks will inspire the next generation of female officials to pursue their dreams of becoming the next Carmen Massel.