In 1985, the Massachusetts towns of Abington and Rockland merged their single youth teams into one team.
Then, as youth hockey became more popular on the South Shore in Massachusetts, it eventually led to the formation of the South Shore Eagles, which now includes players from towns like Bridgewater, Hanson, Middleboro, Taunton, Pembroke, Whitman and Norwell.
But as is the case in any sport, the Eagles have experienced their share of ups and downs.
“I took over the position last July,” President Danielle Larouco said. “Over the past two years or so the Eagles were in a decline in terms of players. We share a rink with the Bay State Breakers in Rockland, so we have a huge competition especially with elite players.
“A lot of our players moved to their organization about two years ago.”
However, in the 2012-13 season, the Eagles have taken flight.
“We were on the downward part of the curve and now we’re on the upward part of the curve,” Larouco said. “The Eagles program has seen an increase in players over the past year, players who’ve come back to the program.
“A big part of the reason people come back is there’s a good, positive vibe because we weren’t held in the highest regard in recent years. Now I think we have a good group of newcomers who realize the program has a lot to offer and cares about developing each and every player.”
What the Eagles program offers is two-fold in nature:
“The Yankee Conference is primarily a C level league,” Larouco said. “Because there were so many kids that wanted to skate at all age levels, it led to the formation of the Yankee Conference.”
The importance of the Yankee Conference Instructional League to the Eagles is underscored by the fact that 21 of 22 players at the Mite level returned for this season.
“We had a 95 percent return rate at the Mite instructional level,” Larouco said with a hint of pride in her voice. “Now, that’s snowballed. Ask any of those kids and they’ll say they love Eagles pride.”
To say the coaches “love” working in the Eagles program would be an understatement.
“We give our coaches warm-up suits,” Larouco said. “They’ll say ‘ “I’ve been coaching for 20 years and nobody ever has given me warm-up suits.’
“It’s the little things that have meant a lot.”
While USA Hockey’s American Development Model couldn’t be classified as a “little thing,” it has meant a lot to the Eagles program.
“We follow USA Hockey’s ADM,” Larouco noted. “It’s a four-on-four program run out of Hingham. It caters to a smaller ice surface with more touches and opportunities to become involved.
“We’ve had great success. Over the last couple of years, the kids who’ve come through the program on the ice have loved it. The end result of what the Eagles provide — and the ADM is part of it — is quality instruction at a great cost.”
Larouco herself brings an inordinate amount of quality experience to the South Shore Eagles.
A Brown University graduate (she played at Brown during a period when the Bears captured several ECAC and Ivy League titles), she also played for the U.S. National Team, served as an assistant coach at her alma mater, and attended several USA National development camps.
“My background definitely has helped me in terms of knowledge of hockey,” Larouco said. “I’m fortunate to be in an area where I can give back to the program. Last year, I was in the instructional league.
“No matter what my business is, we talk hockey all day long. I get along with the guys and we can talk hockey, and I can relate to the boys. At the end of the day, you want to mold the kids, plus I love hockey.”
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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