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Minnesota Thoroughbreds aim to develop players for the next level

02/26/2013, 2:15pm MST
By Mike Scandura

Perhaps the best advertisement for the Minnesota Thoroughbreds is that 28 alumni are currently playing at the high school level in the Gopher State and a total of 97 have played college hockey.
“Basically, what we offer for girls is another avenue to pursue their hockey careers,” coach Marci Bydlon said. “We play over 50 games a season and we get to travel and play against some of the best teams in the nation as well as playing in the Junior Women’s Hockey League.
“We have girls that come to us and need more competition to play against. We pride ourselves in developing players.”
Not every girl who tries out for the Thoroughbreds possesses the skills of a future U.S. Olympic Team player.
“We may see somebody who isn’t the crème de la crème but who has the desire to take it to the next level,” Bydlon said. “What we do is work on their skills and we also fine tune them.”
Perhaps even more important than fine-tuning skills such as skating, passing and shooting is the emphasis the Thoroughbreds place on time management.
“We travel quite a bit,” Bydlon said. “It gets them ready for their freshman year in college when they must get accustomed to time management.
“Given our regimented schedule, they must adhere to time management. They can’t play if they don’t keep up their grades.”
Arguably the two most notable Thoroughbreds alumni are U.S. Olympians Jenny Potter (Edina, Minn.) and Molly Engstrom (Siren, Wis.).
“Our girls know that this is quite an honor to put on the same jersey that at one time was worn by women who went on to play in the Olympics,” Bydlon said. “That says a lot about our program.”
Besides Potter and Engstrom, other players who rank high on the Thoroughbreds all-time scoring list are college hockey players Stephanie Anderson (Minnesota), Jenny Hempel (Minnesota-Duluth), Kari Lundberg (Minnesota), Roxy Stang (St. Cloud State) and Lindsay Burman (Quinnipiac).
Another aspect of the Thoroughbreds is the summer training program run by Bydlon, who’s in her 10th season with the organization.
“I run a summer training program for girls who are trying out for the team and college players who are coming back so they’re ready for next season,” she said. “I hold a four-day training session and work on skills such as skating strides.
“We break down their strides and shooting. Throughout the season, that’s what we incorporate. Plus, we ask women who’ve graduated from Division I schools and are interested in coaching to help on a younger level.”
A year ago, the Thoroughbreds “graduated” 11 players who went on to play college hockey. Not surprisingly, that left several holes in this season’s roster.
“We started with three returnees this season,” Bydlon said. “It seems like we’re always re-loading for next season.
“When I say we have to develop players, I’m being serious.”
Serious and necessary considering the Thoroughbreds annually play in several national-level tournaments during a given season and then compete for a USA Hockey National Championship at season’s end.
The Thoroughbreds also hold their own international-level tournament during the Thanksgiving break. The 2012 tournament drew a total of 16 teams from states like Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin plus Canadian providences like Alberta and British Columbia.
“You want to see other teams that you wouldn’t normally see,” Bydlon said of the tournament. “And on a weekend, Canadian teams wouldn’t have trouble traveling here because they’ve already had their Thanksgiving [in Canada, Thanksgiving is celebrated on the second Monday in October].
“For teams in the area like Illinois and Wisconsin, there are teams that you won’t see during the season, which is a great draw.”
Despite all the notable accomplishments of the Thoroughbreds, it’s the little things that have meant the most during her tenure with the organization.
“It’s when you get that little note from somebody that’s graduated from college and thanks you because they were able to live out their dreams,” Bydlon said. “Or it’s when somebody comes back and thanks you personally.
“They know it was like family when they were here. That’s the fun part, when you see that they’ve made it.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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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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