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Golden State Elite Bantam: A Four-Year Success Story

05/06/2013, 12:45pm MDT
By Tony Khing

SAN MATEO, Calif. -- When Mario Morrissette became coach of the California Cougars Peewee A in 2009-10, he knew he was in for a challenge. Most of his players, who came up from the Squirt level, had never played travel hockey before.
The inexperience showed that first year. The team had a losing record in the regular season and won just one of six games in the Northern California and state (California Amateur Hockey Association) championships.
The next year, as Peewee AAs, they dominated the regular season and did well in the postseason. Last year the Cougars became Bantam AAs, again dominated regular season play, but saw their season end in the CAHA Playdown.
This past year, the Cougars morphed into the Golden State Elite Bantam AA Eagles. All they did was go 13-2-0 in CAHA play and outscore the opposition by a 90-goal differential — the second highest at their level.
Their 31-11-0 overall record earned them a No. 13 national ranking from among Bantam ‘98 Tier II teams (just one of two from California to rank in the top-15). Most importantly, the Eagles won their first state championship. Then they advanced to the elite eight of the recently completed USA Hockey Tier II Youth 14-and-Under AAA championships, where they lost to the eventual national champion Ohio 98 Selects.
According to Morrissette, there’s only one reason why his players have progressed: hard work.
“I knew we could do it if we paid the price,” Morrissette said. “These kids have worked for 10 weeks every summer for four years. They got up at 4:30 in the morning every day just to come and skate.”
While a lot of kids were spending the summer at the beach or playing video games all day, Morrissette’s kids were on the ice three hours a day doing things such as scrimmaging, working on breakouts and skating.
“The secret [to being the best] is simple,” he continued. “We work harder than everybody else. We had more ice than everybody else. The kids showed the guts to work hard, which is very important. And they had good teachers to teach them the right way.
“We told them [the kids] that if we did all of the right things, this is what’s going to happen,” Morrissette added. “If you work hard, this [a championship season] is what it’s going to give us. All of that is a good recipe for success.”
The tremendous amounts of time on the ice, travel and doing dryland also created life lessons the kids can take with them forever.
“We became a family because we were always together,” Morrissette said. “When you become a family, the passion is there. You love what you’re doing because you’re winning. It’s more fun when you’re winning. You see that when you pay the price, you get results. The kids will do whatever it takes because they know if they pay the price, they’ll get more than what other kids will get.”
For most of Morrissette’s players, the time has come to move forward. It will be prep school hockey for some, or perhaps Morrissette will continue to coach them at the Midget level within the Golden State program. But one thing is for certain: the kids haven’t reached the pinnacle of their young hockey careers.
“I have to sit down with them to see what they want to do,” Morrissette said. “Maybe we’ll stick together for another year or two, or it could be time for them to go their separate ways.
“This is a time for them to realize they’ve accomplished something big,” he concluded. “But they still have a lot more to accomplish.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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No one has ever said that officiating, and especially officiating ice hockey, was easy. Rule knowledge, communication skills, fitness, skating and a natural presence are just some of the skills necessary to be a successful official.  Some possess more of these skills and those are the officials who advance to higher levels. But regardless of the level achieved or the skill set the official possesses, the one quality that should be equal among every official is a high level of integrity.

The national official staff members, along with our volunteer referees-in-chief and local supervisors, have heard growing concerns over a decreasing level of integrity among our youth hockey officials. It’s sometimes said that no one is holding them accountable. A portion of this perception is likely a typical “blame the officials” mentality, but some anecdotal evidence suggests there is also some merit to this concern. That’s alarming to USA Hockey, as it affects the credibility of our entire program, along with every member it represents. The blunt truth is this: even one official who isn’t on the up and up can and will damage the credibility of all officials who do take pride in the integrity of their work.

Whether we like it or not, officials are under a microscope, and by the nature of the business, are held to a very high standard. When we signed up for this officiating gig, we committed ourselves to represent the game of hockey, USA Hockey, our local group of officials and ourselves as people of integrity who accept the responsibility and guardianship of enforcing the rules in a fair and consistent manner. Most importantly, we must remember that the game is bigger than all of us and that the game itself is what we serve. Those who lose sight of that not only compromise the competitive fairness of the games, they also make life more difficult for all of the officials by damaging the credibility of the officiating community.

An example of this type of unacceptable behavior occurred last season. A Level 2 adult official tended to work his games with a chip on his shoulder. He often created confrontation with coaches, alienated his younger partners with inaccurate advice and disregarded their help in attempting to get some calls and rule applications right. Even though the help they were providing was correct, he chose to maintain his incorrect position that affected the outcome of several games. He also tended to identify certain players and single them out for various infractions and/or on-ice lectures as a means of emphasizing his authority.

Once the trends were identified, concerns were voiced by several parents and coaches to the local assigner and supervisor, who acknowledged they had never seen the official’s work, but would keep throwing him out there working the same teams and levels that had expressed concerns regarding his attitude. This included intentionally assigning him a playoff game involving the coach who was the most vocal in expressing concerns. This official was then instructed to “throw the coach out if he says anything.”

That playoff game went without a hitch – a tight 2-1 game with a couple of close off-side plays and maybe an icing or two missed. In the post-game dressing room, the official in question, in the presence of his partners and the officials scheduled to work the next game, said, “It’s always a great day when you can make one or both of the coaches mad. It’s too bad the white team coach didn’t want to play along today.” The partners sat there in silence until finally a 12-year-old Level 1 official who was working the next game said, “I don’t think that’s right. We’re not supposed to bait coaches.”

The official got dressed quickly and left the room without saying another word. Kind of ironic that it was the innocent 12-year-old that seemed to “get it” and instill a sense of accountability among those in the room. Imagine how any 12-year-old player feels on the ice when they see the official(s) displaying an attitude that is simply not to the standard the game deserves. And yes, more often than not, they can see through those who do not have the level of integrity expected.

Fortunately, these types of officials are few and far between. But they do exist and to simply stick our heads in the sand and not address the concern is irresponsible. Each of us, as officials, has an obligation to behave in a professional manner at all times and take our role seriously. We have made a commitment to approach each game with the understanding that the game is about the players and we should be invisible until the players require us to appear as a result of infractions that occur. Respect is a two-way street and simply putting on the sweater with the USA Hockey crest suggests respect is warranted, but only if supported by your actions.

USA Hockey has an obligation to create a non-threatening environment that promotes respect for officials and an opportunity for officials to improve through education and evaluation. USA Hockey does this through playing rules, points of emphasis, zero tolerance policies and comprehensive education programs for officials, coaches, parents and players.

In return, the game expects USA Hockey officiating members to bring a professional image to every contest and an attitude that creates a positive environment and makes the game better. We realize everyone makes mistakes – it’s part of the game. However, laziness or unprofessional behavior is unacceptable and being creative in rule enforcement and not holding players/coaches accountable for infractions will only make the next team of officials’ jobs much more difficult and set them up for failure.

The reality is that the game official must always hold themselves to the highest level of integrity and behavior both on and off the ice. Maybe that’s fair, or maybe not, but it is the expectation we are required to meet.

As we head into the 2015-16 season, ask yourself if you are willing to meet that expectation. If the answer is yes, welcome back and we look forward to a great season.

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