The Howard Huskies are expanding. At the end of the 2010-11 season, 303 boys were registered in the Maryland-based program. Today that number is 360 — an increase of 16 percent.
Among the many reasons for this increase in registrations is USA Hockey’s American Development Model.
“We’ve grown every year over the last three years, which is good,” Huskies President Bud Bonato said. “A lot of it is we’ve had success at some levels. But we’ve embraced the ADM. Years ago we were one of the first clubs in the [Washington, D.C. metropolitan] area to do cross ice.
“Initially, there was a lot of resistance. It was new to parents. Many felt their kids wouldn’t be playing full ice. Then we had kids doing it and parents really liked it. We’ve done some half ice but more cross ice.”
Currently the Huskies have three cross-ice teams plus five teams each at the Peewee, Bantam and Midget levels.
Both the Midget Blue and Midget Silver teams have advanced to the Maryland state finals (the colors represent the talent levels on each team with blue being the highest level of ability).
“We’ve had success at that age level,” Bonato said. “Every year we’re contenders for the Chesapeake Bay League championship. Another reason why we’ve had success is that we’ve had stability in coaching at the various age levels.”
The Huskies’ Hockey Day in Columbia — which is held at the Columbia (Md.) Ice Rink — proved to be a success earlier this season.
“It was a come-and-try-hockey for free day,” Bonato explained. “We played games, we tested how fast your shot is and we had a three-on-three skills competition. Interspersed in that we had our Midget A team and Squirt team play games and our girls’ team played their first game ever.
“We got the word out. The funny thing is we had some out-of-town teams come and they had such a good time that they took part in it.”
The December holiday period also is a special time for the Huskies.
“Every day around Christmas our club partners with a group called the Patterson Park Stars,” Bonato said. “We invite inner-city kids from under-privileged backgrounds and we have player and parent volunteers that spend a morning with them.
“They have breakfast, meet with Santa and then go out on the ice and play games. We also have gift cards and presents for the kids.”
Howard’s Peewee Blue and Bantam Blue teams each received a “present” of sorts in January when they traveled to Boston for a series of games at Boston University’s Agganis Arena.
“Mike Donnelly coaches our Peewee Blue team and Bob Tibbs is our Bantam Blue coach,” Bonato said. “Mike’s been doing this every year in January. They’ve gone to Canada and all over the place.
“This year they took in a Boston University game and got to meet Mike Eruzione.
Right, THAT Mike Eruzione: the captain of the 1980 Miracle on Ice team.
“The kids had a question-and-answer session with Mike,” said Bonato, “and he was fantastic with them.”
The Howard Huskies also host the Eastern Regional Silver Stix Tournament, which over the last six years has grown to the point where this season 120 teams participated.
“It’s grown so much that we have five facilities and 10 sheets of ice in the tournament,” Bonato said. “It’s a massive undertaking.”
And with good reason, considering that when the Huskies first began hosting the Silver Stix Tournament around Thanksgiving, only six teams at the Mite, Squirt, Peewee and Bantam levels participated.
“If you talk to people, they’ll say it’s become such a part of the fabric of the community,” Bonato said. “It’s done so much for our families. To have all this growth is a lot of fun. Plus, we don’t have to go anywhere and are spending time at the rink.”
At season’s end, the Howard Huskies hold an annual awards banquet that, according to Bonato, invariably draws 600 people to the Turf Valley Country Club.
“We’ll pack the place,” he said. “We have an award that’s presented every year, the Tommy Nicoli Award [Nicoli was a Huskie who died in an automobile accident]. It’s given to a Midget player based on sportsmanship, character and academics.
“Michael Peters won it a couple of years ago. He was the starting goalie this season for Middlebury as a true sophomore and is a great student who has great character.”
The Huskies also present Sportsmanship Awards to a player at the Squirt, Peewee and Bantam levels.
“Kids strive for that,” Bonato said. “The bottom line is we want kids to play no matter what level. Hockey’s a game you can play as an adult.
“The level changes, but you can play a long time. It’s a life-long thing that you can do.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.
For the last 15 years, Ian Walsh has crisscrossed the United States as an NHL official. In this Part 2 of our conversation with Walsh, the 42-year-old Philadelphia native fielded a series of questions discussing life on the road, his conditioning schedule, mentors, on-ice struggles, the evolution of the game and advice for aspiring officials.
USA Hockey: How do you think you've been able to maintain all of the officiating success you've had over the last 15 years?
Ian Walsh: I believe one of my strengths as an official is my work ethic. I come to the rink every night ready to work hard and give 100 percent. I also believe I am very coachable, and when I'm offered a suggestion for improvement, I try very hard to implement that advice into my game.
USAH: What is your conditioning schedule like during the NHL season? How about during the off-season?
Walsh: During the season, conditioning work is more about maintaining what you built up over the summer. The workouts aren't as intense but you must continue to take good care of your body. Game-day workouts usually include a 30-minute bike ride or a couple miles run at the hotel gym. I also like to do some core work and light strength training on top of that.
The weather in Portland is amazing in the summer, and I prefer to be outside and on my road bike. I usually get in about four days a week of riding outdoors to help build my endurance and strength. I try to play hockey a few days a week as well to help work on my skating.
USAH: When did you realize you finally had cemented your career as an official? What was that feeling like?
Walsh: I don't know if you ever get that feeling. Every night is a different challenge in our league. It is a hard, hard league to officiate. The scrutiny of every call, every goal, ever non-call is such a challenge for all of us. The best players and coaches in the world expect us to perform at such a high level every night, and we have to be ready for anything that comes our way. It’s a privilege to be on the ice in the NHL, and I think that is something no official takes for granted.
USAH: What has been your biggest accomplishment to date as an official?
Walsh: Being chosen to participate in four Stanley Cup playoffs is what I'm most proud of. It’s an incredible honor to be selected and that’s the goal for every official each year. Also, being part of the team that was chosen to represent the NHL at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics was a phenomenal experience and a great opportunity.
USAH: What has been the biggest hurdle/obstacle you've had to overcome in your officiating career?
Walsh: I’ve been lucky so far, knock on wood, that I haven’t had any serious injuries. Other than some bumps and bruises, I’ve been relatively injury-free in my career. The biggest challenge is to be able to bounce back from calls you made that aren't correct. In this day and age, we usually know within minutes after the game if we made a wrong decision. When you make a call that impacts the game, it’s hard on the mind. Unfortunately, we make mistakes and what most people don't understand is that nobody takes it harder than the official making that mistake. Being able to bounce back from a mistake is something all officials must learn to do.
USAH: Who has had the most impact on your officiating career over the past 15 years? What has that person or those people taught you?
Walsh: Nobody has helped me more over my NHL career than fellow referee Paul Devorski. I've worked a lot of games with Paul and we’ve had the opportunity to travel together on the road. As an elite, veteran referee, he has been able to pass down some of his knowledge to me to help me become a better official. Paul is retiring this year, and our staff will sorely miss him.
USAH: How has the game changed, besides speed, since you started in the early 2000s?
Walsh: I would say the biggest change besides the speed of the game would be the use of technology. It is amazing what you see at rink – teams have iPads on the bench, super slo-motion video replays, hi-def video scoreboards, etc. With all that technology, it makes the officials job appear easy. People forget that the official on the ice sees a play one time, in real time, and must make a split-second decision on that play. It often appears quite different when you see a replay in super slo-mo on hi-def after a game.
USAH: What advice can you give aspiring NHL/professional league officials as they progress in their career?
Walsh: I would say make sure you have a backup plan. Making it to the NHL is everyone’s goal, but there are very few jobs available. There are so many factors that go into hiring an official and a lot of those are out of your control. Go and work the highest level available to you. Don't worry about other officials, if you are good enough, the NHL will find you. Also, control what you can control – always work on your skating, know your rules and come to the rink every night with a strong work ethic and a great attitude.
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