The Hampton Roads Whalers offer a variety of programs not only for youth travel and house league teams but also for junior hockey players. But one aspect the Virginia-based organization offers arguably might be the most important.
“What’s proven to be a huge plus is our ‘Whaler Nation Happy Hour,’ which is a seven-week summer program that runs from Monday through Thursday,” Whaler Nation Director Brad Jones said. “We get kids on ice, have fun and knock off the cobwebs.”
Besides skill sessions run by Jones and Andy Newton, power skating session runs by power skating instructor Suzie Hewitt and small-area games, the boys also train with strength coach Aaron Eppler, who worked with the Phillies and has a 2008 World Series championship ring.
“Aaron helps develop core values and has been a valuable asset to us,” Jones said. “He gives every kid a baseline concussion test at the end of the summer and before the beginning of each season. With concussions being under a microscope, it’s important that we have this type of test.”
“We also have an injury evaluation session every Wednesday night with a physician,” Jones said. “If your wrist is sore or whatever your problem may be, treatment will be recommended as will be the case if a boy needs to see a specialist.”
The Whalers, who were founded in 1998, field Peewee AA and B teams, a Bantam A team, Midget Under-16 A and AA teams plus a Midget U-18 A team that encompass approximately 100 players. But the organization’s house league almost is bursting at the seams.
“Our house league is the biggest it’s ever been,” Jones said. “We have about 150 kids in our house league and 55 in our learn-to-play program.”
The obvious question is why has the house league expanded to such a high number of boys?
“Five years ago we started the Chilled Ponds Hockey Academy [at the Chilled Ponds Arena], which is a 16-week summer program designed to fast track kids to play in our house league,” Jones said. “We took various components of the American Development Model like power skating, 3-on-3 cross ice and skill stations. Through that we’ve shown tremendous growth.
“We’ve offered ‘Try Hockey for Free’ the last four years and have averaged 60-plus kids. We try to get 30 percent of those kids to come back.”
The Whalers also have a strong relationship with the AHL’s defending Calder Cup champion Norfolk Admirals.
Among other things, Whalers players stand with the Admirals during the playing of the National Anthem at The Scope in Norfolk. The Admirals also allow the Whalers to set up a stand at games where they hand out promotional material for everything from figure skating to travel hockey.
The Whalers play in the Capital Beltway Hockey League. Over the years they’ve enjoyed a significant amount of success.
“We’ve won our fair share over the last few years,” Jones said. “We’ve seen a Squirt A, Bantam AA and a Peewee AA championship. And that same Peewee AA team has won the Silver Stix.
“Typically, we have teams compete every year for the playoffs.”
Not surprisingly, the Whalers travel teams serve as a feeder program for the organization’s junior teams.
“We strive to give these kids the tools to play junior hockey whether they want to or not,” Jones said. “On our Empire team, about 10 of the 21 boys were locals who came up through our youth program. And on our EJHL South team, we had about seven out of 23 kids who were local.
“We utilize similar training programs. Our goal is ice time because there isn’t a substitute for ice time.”
Jones admits that while winning championships is a cause for excitement, the same can be said when boys achieve specific goals.
“What’s satisfying for me is seeing the development and growth,” he said. “It’s seeing our house kids excited to make travel teams and our travel kids excited to make juniors.
“Championships are nice, but for us it’s seeing the kids reach their goals. And one goal is to give kids the skills to play at the next level.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.
Long days, great games and high intensity – it’s tournament time. Gary Cutler is the USA Hockey supervisor of officials in Western New York. He’s officiated countless tournaments at both the local and national levels. Cutler sat down with USA Hockey to discuss teamwork, tournament-time preparation and what officials can do to be selected as postseason officials next season.
USA Hockey: What does your current position entail? What are some key responsibilities?
Gary Cutler: My current volunteer position as supervisor of officials entails many different responsibilities throughout the season. It all starts immediately after national tournament week, with organizing local seminars in the fall, participating in summer camps, and solving any registration issues an official might have. We are also identifying those officials that potentially can work in postseason tournaments, the Junior Officiating Development Program or a USA Hockey summer camp. We also communicate with leagues about rule changes or rule interpretations and solve any issues that arise during the year with officials.
USA Hockey: What do you like most?
Gary Cutler: The most enjoyable part of my position is seeing officials improve their officiating skills from their very first seminar they attended up to the level they are presently officiating at, whether it is getting a postseason assignment, working in the Junior Officiating Development Program, college assignments, international assignments, or even working in professional leagues.
USA Hockey: Tournament time. What is your initial reaction when you hear those two words?
Gary Cutler: Long days. Most postseason tournaments consist of 12- to 14-hour days of being at the rink observing officials and making sure the officiating side of the tournament runs as smooth as possible.
USA Hockey: What are some unexpected duties or responsibilities that come with tournaments that officials might overlook or forget?
Gary Cutler: Throughout the entire tournament, the officiating program is a team more than ever. Every official should be helping their teammates so everyone can do the best job they are capable of. A lot of officials have more than one rulebook in their referee bag. An official should have complete knowledge and understanding of the rulebook that they are using, whether it is a regular-season game or a postseason assignment.
USA Hockey: Do officials tend to feel more pressure during tournaments, especially semifinal or championship games? How should they cope with that and stay focused on the task at hand?
Gary Cutler: Most definitely a semifinal or championship game brings a lot more pressure on the officials that have been selected to work these games. The officials that do these types of games generally have these attributes that give them the opportunity to succeed?
USA Hockey: Can you feel the intensity ramp up during tournaments, from the players, coaches, parents, etc.?
Gary Cutler: When tournament time comes around, everyone’s intensity level is increased. As each day of the tournament passes, the intensity level grows until the conclusion of the championship game.
USA Hockey: What can young officials do to position themselves for consideration as officials for next year’s tournaments?
Gary Cutler: It all starts in the summer. Start a physical fitness program over the summer, so when the season comes around, you are in the best physical shape you can be in. Go to summer development camps. When you attend a seminar, come with a positive learning attitude. Officials have the opportunity to be identified as potential candidates for tournaments at these seminars. During the regular season, work hard at every game, for the entire game. Constantly look into the rulebook/casebook so you have a complete understanding of the rules. Improve your officiating skills every game. This can be done by reading your manuals and reviewing the videos on USA Hockey’s website. If you are evaluated, listen, take notes and implement what the evaluator discussed with you when you are officiating games. The moment you enter the arena, put yourself in the proper position to make the proper call.
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