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P.K. O’Handley is still going strong after 1,000 USHL games

03/14/2013, 1:45pm MDT
By Tom Robinson

P.K. O’Handley was facing the painful prospect of an early end to his hockey days when concussions disrupted his college career as a goalie at Wisconsin-Eau Claire.
O’Handley instead found a solution that greatly extended the amount of time he would spend in the sport.
UW-Eau Claire coach Mike Eaves and his successor, Troy Ward, gave O’Handley a chance to get involved in coaching. More than a quarter century later, there is no end in sight after O’Handley became the first man to serve in 1,000 games as a United States Hockey League head coach.
“Those guys gave me an opportunity to start coaching,” said O’Handley, the coach of the Waterloo Black Hawks. “I had a passion for this game all my life and the thought of stopping was real at the time.
PK OHandley“I got the opportunity to stay in it and start coaching and I got that bug. I still have that bug today.”
That is clear.
While racking up milestones that emphasize the length of his career, O’Handley shares a passion with the junior hockey players whose careers he is helping launch.
“One of the attractive things for me is that I’ve always wanted an opportunity to coach in the NHL,” O’Handley said. “Whether I do remains to be seen, but the beautiful thing about the USHL is that even though it is a league for amateurs, it is run like a professional league.”
O’Handley reached his 1,000th game in the league on March 9 with a 4-3 shootout win over the Dubuque Fighting Saints. It was the team’s 30th win of the season, marking the eighth time in O’Handley’s 11 seasons with the Black Hawks that they have reached that level.
Another milestone is right around the corner. O’Handley is 494-434-72 in the USHL, including 354-247-51 at Waterloo, moving him within range of joining Mike Hastings, Dave Siciliano and Bob Ferguson as the only coaches to win 500 career USHL games. Hastings holds the record with 529.
O’Handley said he has received help at home in remaining dedicated to the demands of his profession.
“My wife Maria has been with me from the start,” O’Handley said. “She’s my ultimate supporter and, in a lot of ways, my coach.
“The highs and lows of hockey are just that — way high and way low — sometimes. You need someone solid in the background, and I have her. She’s got it figured out. She understands the job and she understands the sport.”
The sport has taken O’Handley around the world. After starting in the USHL with the North Iowa Huskies, O’Handley left to serve as an assistant coach on the professional level with the ECHL’s Florida Everblades, helping the team to the league’s regular season title in 1999-2000.
The two-time USHL General Manager of the Year and two-time Coach of the Year returned to the league in 2002 with Waterloo.
Along the way, he has also been heavily involved with USA Hockey. He was part of medal-winning efforts in four international events before serving on the U.S. coaching staff for the 2009 World Junior Championships and then winning gold in November 2010 as the head coach of the U.S. Junior Select team at the World Junior A Challenge.
“Those two really stand out,” O’Handley said. “ ... To play in the World Junior Championships and be a part of it in Canada, playing Canada on New Year’s Eve was special.”
O’Handley has no intention of reducing his commitments to the game.
“I’m thinking it’s going to slow down a little bit, but it never does and that’s good,” he said. “We’ve gone year-round with whenever our season ends, our draft, and then tryout camp and it starts again.”
There is a simple explanation for his ability to manage that routine year after year.
“I loved the game, and I’ve been around it all my life,” O’Handley said. “I can’t even imagine, even after 1,000 games in this league, doing anything else.
“I’ve enjoyed it. There’s nothing else I’d want to do.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.
Head coach North Iowa Huskies 1991-98 with a 140-187-21 record.
Head coach of Waterloo Black Hawks 2002-present with a 354-247-51 record.
Anderson Cup as USHL regular-season champion 2006-2007.
Clark Cup as USHL playoff champion 2003-04.
USHL Coach of the Year 2002-03 and 2006-07.
USHL General Manager of the Year 2002-03 and 2011-12.
Coached the last two NCAA Frozen Four MVPs — Parker Milner of Boston College and J.T. Brown of University of Minnesota-Duluth — at Waterloo.
Coached current NHL players Joe Pavelski of the San Jose Sharks and Craig Smith of the Nashville Predators.
Took Waterloo team to Russia for Junior Club World Cup in August 2012. Team earned silver medal.
Head coach for gold medal 2010 World Junior A Challenge.
Assistant in 2009 World Junior Championships.
Played goaltender at Wisconsin-Eau Claire before becoming an assistant coach there.
Assistant coach with ECHL’s Florida Everblades.

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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.


08/27/2015, 9:00am MDT
By Kelly Erickson

When it comes to women’s hockey, there is no argument that USA Hockey and Hockey Canada have the two premier programs in the world. Earlier this month, their young talent took to the ice in Lake Placid, New York, as a part of the U18 and U22 Select Series.

While there were several athletes on both teams who competed for their country in such an event for the first time, it also marked a special occasion for Melissa Szkola. An experienced official who has worked a handful of International Ice Hockey Federation events, Lake Placid marked her first USA-Canada affair. USA Hockey caught up with the Michigan native to talk about the amazing international experience and her evolving officiating career.

USA Hockey: What was it like to be a part of the U22 and U18 Select Series’

Melissa Szkola: The experience was wonderful. It was fantastic. We’ve essentially got the two best teams in the world competing against each other, so the learning experience, working with the officials that we have, is always amazing. You leave here a better person, a better official; that’s what we’re here for. That’s what I look forward to the most at these big-time events: the level of hockey and what you get out of it as a whole.

USAH: How did you first get into officiating?

Szkola: It’s been nine years since I got my start. I was a competitive figure skater and my older brother played hockey, so I’ve always been around the game, but it was my husband who actually got me into the officiating side of it. When we started dating, he was a roller and ice hockey official. He asked me to come with one time and I said ‘okay.’ That’s how I got started. It’s something he and I have in common and he is my biggest supporter. I wouldn’t be here without him.

USAH: So nine years under your belt, how would you describe some of your past IIHF events?

Szkola: I’ve had a handful of experiences with international tournaments. Each one has brought a new set of skills to my plate. You learn a lot about yourself and you learn a lot from your supervisors from different countries as well. To get out and work with other female officials and learn from them and your supervisors is amazing.

Being in another country, where sometimes there aren’t people who even speak English, is a really unique experience as well. The communication that you learn to speak with non-English speaking officials really makes you appreciate what you have in common – hockey.

USAH: How did the Select Series compare to those events?

Szkola: The level of play, it’s definitely much higher at the Select Series than any of the championships that I’ve been to. I wouldn’t say that the intensity is much different, because at each level they are competing for their highest achievement. The intensity is the same, the importance is the same, but the level of play is definitely much better; it’s faster, it’s crisper. Your awareness just has to be that much higher.

USAH: Did calling a game with high-caliber players like those at the Select Series shake up any nerves?

Szkola: I’ll be honest, I was a little nervous before we got on the ice. I’ve watched Team USA and Team Canada compete before, so you know the level at which they intend to play. Being out there with it, you just know where the emotions can go sometimes. It was a little nerve-wracking before the start, but as soon as that puck drops, you have a job to do. USA Hockey does a fantastic job developing us; I feel like they wouldn’t put you out there if you weren’t ready. Once that puck drops, you’re kind of at home.

USAH: What’s next for your officiating future?

Szkola: The support that I have, not only from my hometown in Michigan, but also the support and development USA Hockey has given really sets you up for success if you want to take it in that direction. That is my goal. I do want to skate in the Olympics. Moving forward I am going to continue to improve upon each experience that I have, because you can always be better. Mistakes do get made, so you learn from those and improve yourself. 

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