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."
Someone once said that, “Officiating is the only vocation where you are expected to start out perfect and then only get better from there.” It’s true, officials face plenty of scrutiny every time they step on to the ice, and it’s unlikely that you will be able to please both teams with every call throughout the course of the game.
To make our job even more unique, you get a variety of “input” from players, coaches and spectators about your performance. Sometimes you’ll take those comments to heart in order to improve, other times you’ll tune the chatter out, knowing it’s not exactly helpful.
When it comes to our job in managing officials registration and education programs, things aren’t that much different. The Officiating Program leadership, made up of the Officials Section which is comprised of volunteer district referees-in-chief charged with establishing policy, finds it difficult to keep our 25,000 officiating members happy all of the time, while also balancing a commitment to the game of providing capable officiating.
They too hear a lot of chatter throughout the season, some of which is simply impractical and self-serving and tends to get tuned out, while some of it is heard loud and clear as legitimate concerns or ideas on how things could be improved. In any case, time is needed to explore the effect on the big picture and carefully think through all the possible ramifications of any change that is made for the betterment of the entire program, and ultimately, the game itself.
Consider the beginning of the USA Hockey Officiating Education Program back in 1983 when Mark Rudolph was brought in as the first director of the Officiating Education Program. It started with manuals, then the establishment of the summer development camps and instructor training programs, followed by the development of a more formal seminar program and open-book testing. It has continued to evolve to become the internationally recognized program you are part of today.
Along the way, there has been a tremendous amount of change taking place – much of which was actually suggested and encouraged by you, our membership. The digital age started electronic registration, then electronic testing, and more recently, the development of the online seminar curriculum. All of these ideas came from voices within our membership and USA Hockey’s leadership listened.
Sure, there have been a few naysayers suggesting we will lose membership as we make certain changes, or they say that we demand too much from our officials. After all, change is rarely easy and some people just don’t like it because it alters their routines. However, over the years and regardless of the changes that have taken place, the Officiating Program has seen growth in membership in 30 of the 35 years, and has continued to do business with only a couple of moderate fee increases. It is also important to realize that when change does occur, time is necessary to be able to fully evaluate the effect of that change. That has been especially true with the significant change in implementing the online seminar curriculum, now in its fourth season. This part of the educational process has been tweaked each season and culminated with a significant reduction in the time commitment necessary to complete all of the modules during the 2017-18 season.
Now that time has passed and as technology continues to advance, the Officials Section has spent the past 10 months evaluating our registration/education program and continuing to listen to membership feedback in an effort to continue to streamline the registration process while maximizing the educational benefit. The work of a sub-committee charged with this task has recently been completed and presented to the entire Officials Section, and received a positive response. Much of the specifics and details of the recommended changes moving forward will be finalized in the coming months, but we wanted to take this opportunity to share some of the likely proposed changes to the registration process you will see for the 2018-19 season.