George McPhee approached the stage and paused before addressing the packed ballroom in a downtown Washington, D.C., hotel.
"This is a pretty impressive group of more than 500 coaches who are here this week to learn and improve and make things better," said the general manager of the Washington Capitals who was one of the keynote speakers during the opening session at the 2012 National Hockey Coaches Symposium.
"Wouldn't it be nice if the 500 people on Capitol Hill came here to learn and improve and try to make things better."
What would a Beltway hockey brainstorming session be without a little political humor interjected into the program?
McPhee, who is entering his 15th season as the architect of the high-flying Capitals, is also a hockey dad who issued high praise to the grassroots coaches who make the game go.
"Don't ever underestimate the influence you have," said McPhee, who played college hockey at Bowling Green State University and won the Hobey Baker Award in 1982.
"I've been around the NHL for 30 years but my son (Graham) doesn't want to listen to me, but he will listen to Coach Mike and Coach Rob."
McPhee also offered his opinion about the progressive checking skills program that was implemented at the start of the 2011-12 season. After watching his son encounter checking as a first year Peewee he saw how checking hindered his skill development and the development of other youngsters.
"I want to commend USA Hockey for going in the right direction," McPhee said. "As someone who works at the pro level I know there is plenty of time to teach a player how to hit. There is never enough time to teach skill."
The presentations by McPhee and Eddie Olczyk, who wrapped up the evening with an off the cuff speech that ran the gamut of topics, the three-day symposium opened on a high note. Over the course of the weekend, the symposium will feature some of the most experienced coaches and administrators in the game, including Brian Burke, general manager of the 2010 U.S. Olympic Team and general manager and president of the Toronto Maple Leafs; NHL head coaches Dan Bylsma of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Joe Sacco of the Colorado Avalanche, N.Y. Rangers assistant coach Mike Sullivan, and former NTDP coaches Ron Rolston and John Hynes, who are both coaching in the American Hockey League.
For USA Hockey's 59,000 registered coaches, the National Hockey Coaches Symposium, which is typically held every year, is required to achieve Level 5 certification. Those attempting to attain Level 5 status must also write a thesis based on one of the main session presentations.
In addition to general sessions, coaches will also have the opportunity to explore innovative approaches to coaching through intensive breakout sessions dedicated to the specific age level of the players they're coaching.
Regional managers of USA Hockey's American Development Model, including Joe Doyle, Guy Gosselin, Roger Grillo, Jim Hunt, Bob Mancini, and Scott Paluch will serve as breakout sessions speakers.
The first year of Level 5 certification was 1984 as the brainchild of Ken Johannson, the creator of USA Hockey’s Coaching Education Program, and typically feature a number of professional, college and international coaches discussing various aspects of coaching.
Over the years the symposium has grown into a celebration of grassroots coaches in addition to those who have achieved the highest levels of the game.
For the record, Olczyk, who will be inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame on Oct. 15, is also a hockey dad and he thinks that checking should be taught at a younger age.
"That's the beauty of symposiums like this," said Olczyk, who has made the transition from NHL coach to NBC broadcaster, "so we can have discussions and debates. At the end of the day we all want our game to be better."
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.