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Disabled Festival a huge event for Team USA's O'Connor

04/07/2010, 9:45am MDT
By Alex Clark

J.J. O’Connor has had quite a year. As general manager of the U.S. National Sled Hockey Team, he watched as Team USA captured its first-ever 2009 International Paralympic Committee Ice Sledge Hockey World Championship gold medal last May. Last month, while operating in the same role with the U.S. Paralympic Sled Hockey Team, he cheered the U.S. on to the gold medal at the Paralympic Winter Games in Vancouver, B.C.

But the biggest event for O’Connor and disabled hockey throughout the United States will take place this weekend outside of Washington, D.C., at the sixth annual USA Hockey Disabled Festival. The event, which features all four disciplines of disabled hockey including deaf/hard of hearing hockey, special hockey, sled hockey and standing/amputee hockey, will welcome 47 teams and approximately 600 athletes to The Gardens Ice House in Laurel, Md., April 8-11.

“We’ve seen increases in exposure and participation over the years,” said O’Connor. “Part of the reason why we hold such a big event that caters to all four disciplines is to attract greater attention to each individually. Each event might struggle to garner attention on its own, but this event allows all of the disciplines to gain visibility.”

The event has proven successful in the past, raising money for local disabled hockey programs across the country while increasing awareness and participation for each of the disciplines.

Read the release about the event here.

“It happens all the time,” said O’Connor. “Someone visits our Disabled Festival and is inspired to go out and join their local organization’s team. And we’re seeing higher levels of competition each year because of it.”

One area of growth has been among veterans. The USA Warriors program is a prime example of USA Hockey’s recent efforts to reach out to this important and inspirational category of athletes. With this year’s USA Hockey Disabled Festival taking place in such proximity to the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, the opportunity to promote USA Warriors’ sled and standing amputee teams has never been better.

Find out more about the USA Warriors program here.

“Hopefully our sport will grow in popularity with wounded veterans,” said O’Connor. “We want the people who have sacrificed so much for our country to know that hockey is a place for them. If they want to play, we will find a way to get them on the ice whether it be as a standing amputee or in a sled.”

But the Festival serves not only to generate growth but to honor its current participants and devoted followers, as well.

“This event is inspirational for the players and the spectators,” said O’Connor. “Our goal every year is to create an atmosphere that leaves a happiness with everyone in the facility. Plus, the more people that attend to watch and cheer on the athletes, the better they feel.

“I’m looking forward to seeing players’ family and friends,” he added. “I enjoy hanging out with fans and sharing special moments with them. Just being a part of the event is such an honor.”

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INTEGRITY AND ACCOUNTABILITY IN OFFICIATING

08/25/2015, 3:30pm MDT
By USA Hockey

No one has ever said that officiating, and especially officiating ice hockey, was easy. Rule knowledge, communication skills, fitness, skating and a natural presence are just some of the skills necessary to be a successful official.  Some possess more of these skills and those are the officials who advance to higher levels. But regardless of the level achieved or the skill set the official possesses, the one quality that should be equal among every official is a high level of integrity.

The national official staff members, along with our volunteer referees-in-chief and local supervisors, have heard growing concerns over a decreasing level of integrity among our youth hockey officials. It’s sometimes said that no one is holding them accountable. A portion of this perception is likely a typical “blame the officials” mentality, but some anecdotal evidence suggests there is also some merit to this concern. That’s alarming to USA Hockey, as it affects the credibility of our entire program, along with every member it represents. The blunt truth is this: even one official who isn’t on the up and up can and will damage the credibility of all officials who do take pride in the integrity of their work.

Whether we like it or not, officials are under a microscope, and by the nature of the business, are held to a very high standard. When we signed up for this officiating gig, we committed ourselves to represent the game of hockey, USA Hockey, our local group of officials and ourselves as people of integrity who accept the responsibility and guardianship of enforcing the rules in a fair and consistent manner. Most importantly, we must remember that the game is bigger than all of us and that the game itself is what we serve. Those who lose sight of that not only compromise the competitive fairness of the games, they also make life more difficult for all of the officials by damaging the credibility of the officiating community.

An example of this type of unacceptable behavior occurred last season. A Level 2 adult official tended to work his games with a chip on his shoulder. He often created confrontation with coaches, alienated his younger partners with inaccurate advice and disregarded their help in attempting to get some calls and rule applications right. Even though the help they were providing was correct, he chose to maintain his incorrect position that affected the outcome of several games. He also tended to identify certain players and single them out for various infractions and/or on-ice lectures as a means of emphasizing his authority.

Once the trends were identified, concerns were voiced by several parents and coaches to the local assigner and supervisor, who acknowledged they had never seen the official’s work, but would keep throwing him out there working the same teams and levels that had expressed concerns regarding his attitude. This included intentionally assigning him a playoff game involving the coach who was the most vocal in expressing concerns. This official was then instructed to “throw the coach out if he says anything.”

That playoff game went without a hitch – a tight 2-1 game with a couple of close off-side plays and maybe an icing or two missed. In the post-game dressing room, the official in question, in the presence of his partners and the officials scheduled to work the next game, said, “It’s always a great day when you can make one or both of the coaches mad. It’s too bad the white team coach didn’t want to play along today.” The partners sat there in silence until finally a 12-year-old Level 1 official who was working the next game said, “I don’t think that’s right. We’re not supposed to bait coaches.”

The official got dressed quickly and left the room without saying another word. Kind of ironic that it was the innocent 12-year-old that seemed to “get it” and instill a sense of accountability among those in the room. Imagine how any 12-year-old player feels on the ice when they see the official(s) displaying an attitude that is simply not to the standard the game deserves. And yes, more often than not, they can see through those who do not have the level of integrity expected.

Fortunately, these types of officials are few and far between. But they do exist and to simply stick our heads in the sand and not address the concern is irresponsible. Each of us, as officials, has an obligation to behave in a professional manner at all times and take our role seriously. We have made a commitment to approach each game with the understanding that the game is about the players and we should be invisible until the players require us to appear as a result of infractions that occur. Respect is a two-way street and simply putting on the sweater with the USA Hockey crest suggests respect is warranted, but only if supported by your actions.

USA Hockey has an obligation to create a non-threatening environment that promotes respect for officials and an opportunity for officials to improve through education and evaluation. USA Hockey does this through playing rules, points of emphasis, zero tolerance policies and comprehensive education programs for officials, coaches, parents and players.

In return, the game expects USA Hockey officiating members to bring a professional image to every contest and an attitude that creates a positive environment and makes the game better. We realize everyone makes mistakes – it’s part of the game. However, laziness or unprofessional behavior is unacceptable and being creative in rule enforcement and not holding players/coaches accountable for infractions will only make the next team of officials’ jobs much more difficult and set them up for failure.

The reality is that the game official must always hold themselves to the highest level of integrity and behavior both on and off the ice. Maybe that’s fair, or maybe not, but it is the expectation we are required to meet.

As we head into the 2015-16 season, ask yourself if you are willing to meet that expectation. If the answer is yes, welcome back and we look forward to a great season.

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Tag(s): Disabled Festival