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Erik Johnson: “Be happy with who you are and always strive to get better”

03/26/2013, 9:00am MDT
By John Tranchina

DALLAS — Erik Johnson is rounding back into form after missing 11 games earlier in the season due to a concussion.
 
Unfortunately, the 25-year-old defenseman’s Colorado Avalanche have sunk to last in the Western Conference as of March 25 following a 1-6-0 stretch during which they were outscored 31-17.
 
“We haven’t been winning, which obviously makes it tough,” said Johnson, who had totaled four assists but hadn’t recorded a goal in 20 games. “Overall, I think there’s still room for improvement. The offense side hasn’t been where I’d want it to be. Defensively, I’ve been happy with my game, but I just think you can never be satisfied, you need to always keep improving.”
 
The time off due to the head injury was frustrating for the 6-foot-4, 232-pound native of Bloomington, Minn., but he’s battled back, playing a strong two-way game for the Avalanche since his return, ranking fourth on the club with 44 blocked shots while averaging 20:45 of ice time.
 
“He missed a bunch of games with that concussion that he was dealing with, so it’s been a little bit of a work in progress for him to catch up to speed,” Colorado coach Joe Sacco said. “His decisions are getting better, so I think his game is starting to come along.”
 
Of course, there’s an elephant in the room whenever Johnson becomes a topic of conversation.
 
That’s because, for better or for worse, Erik Johnson will always be remembered for being selected first overall by St. Louis in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, just the fifth American chosen that high.
 
It’s a label that Johnson has lugged around with him ever since.
 
“I think early in my career, it was a little bit of a hindrance,” admitted Johnson, who was traded from the Blues to Colorado on Feb. 8, 2011. “I think I put a lot of pressure on myself and tried to go out and do everything by myself, but as my career has gone on, I’m in my sixth year, you just figure out what kind of player you are and you don’t do anything outside yourself.
 
“I’m a good two-way defenseman and can chip in offensively, good in my own zone. You just got to be happy with who you are and always strive to get better. You just got to find your niche, and that was the toughest part for me.”
 
Sacco believes that Johnson is starting to put the past behind him.
 
“He’s still a young defenseman, as far as not being in his prime yet,” Sacco pointed out. “He’s had some ups and downs, just like our team has had its ups and downs. But because of his size and where he was drafted, I think people maybe expect a little bit more from EJ, but we’re not concerned right now. I think sometimes that type of pressure could maybe affect him. He doesn’t need to worry about that, just go out and play. He’s a good, solid defenseman in the NHL.”
 
Johnson earned his high draft position after two outstanding seasons with the U.S. National Team Development Program, scoring 16 goals and 49 points in 47 games in 2005-06.
 
Johnson thoroughly enjoyed his time at the Ann Arbor, Mich.-based program and credits that experience with helping mold him into the player he is today.
 
“It was a great point of my career,” said Johnson, who went on to play one year at the University of Minnesota before joining St. Louis in 2007-08. “Without going there, I don’t think I would be where I am today. It’s a great program and it just teaches you a lot of discipline when you’re 16 years old. You have to move away from home and live with someone else, and you basically come to the rink every day at 2 p.m. and you’re out at 6, and then you have to do homework and you do the same thing every day. It’s tough for a young kid, and it’s not for everybody, but the kids that do it find a lot of success from it, I think.”
 
Johnson has worn the Team USA jersey on numerous other occasions, too, suiting up for the World Junior Championships in both 2006 and ’07. His performance in 2007 was legendary, becoming the first defenseman to lead the tournament in scoring, with four goals and 10 points in six games, earning top defenseman honors and helping the U.S. win the bronze medal.
 
He also represented the stars and stripes at the 2007 World Championships and of course, the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games, helping Team USA win silver.
 
“It was a great experience,” Johnson said of playing in Vancouver. “Any time you can win an Olympic medal and add that to your résumé, it’s a pretty neat accomplishment — one goal away from the gold medal. It was big for USA Hockey, and it was a great experience to be there, especially in Vancouver, a hockey-mad city.”
 
The involvement of NHL players for the 2014 Games in Sochi, Russia, has not yet been decided, but if they go, Johnson hopes to be a part of the American team once again.
 
“It would be an honor to be there again,” said Johnson, who scored one goal in six games in Vancouver. “You never know how things are going to play out, but the only thing you can do is work hard. Obviously, I hope to be there, but my play will dictate that going forward.”
 
As long as he continues to play solid defensively, he’ll be in the mix, while also fulfilling the Avalanche’s expectations of him — and that’s really all that matters.
 
“He’s just got that raw skill where he’s a puck-moving D but he’s got that size that kind of makes him special, the way he skates,” said Colorado and Team USA teammate Paul Stastny. “You see guys skate like that but not guys that are 6-4 that skate the way he does.”
 
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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Three ways to beat burnout

11/28/2016, 9:45pm MST
By Dave Pond

According to NHL metrics, the average hockey shift lasts somewhere between 45 and 55 seconds. There’s inherent beauty and fluidity to line changes, as skaters come on and off the ice, looking to recharge after going full throttle for their teams.

Meanwhile, your NHL officiating peers are giving their all, too – regularly logging 4-5 miles a game. Those totals are even greater at your level, where you and your colleagues officiate multiple games a day, several times per week, on a seemingly never-ending calendar.

And, although we want to perform our best every game, everyone has both good days and bad – players and officials alike. To learn more about keeping burnout at bay, we went to the experts: longtime amateur hockey scheduler Larry Carrington and former NHL official Mark Faucette.

“There is so much more to officiating than meets the eye,” said Faucette, a 17-year NHL veteran. “It may look easy from the stands, but to maintain total control of a game along with the stress, slumps, supervisors, travel, and fitness regimen takes a very special kind of person.”

Get in shape (and stay there)
We all think we’re in “pretty good” shape, but the reality is, officials must be top athletes and in great condition – even at the youngest levels.

“Conditioning is very important—the deeper into the season, the more important it is,” Carrington said. “Burnout happens physically, mentally, and emotionally. An official who is in good condition will experience less physical burnout, and that will in turn help with the emotional and mental burnout.”

Faucette stresses following a workout routine that maxes yourself at least every other day. Neither player or official should plan to use games as a vehicle toward better physical fitness.

“Where we used to go to camp to get into shape, officials today are on summer conditioning regimens and are tested as soon as they come to camp,” he said. “Taking care of your body is a total focus for the good official.

“The players are so much stronger and faster now, so it’s imperative the officials keep the same pace.”

Find balance
No, not balance on your skates (that’s a given). Rather, make sure to keep the big picture in mind, to work a manageable schedule that includes everything that’s important to you – family, friends, and time away from the rink.

Although it makes Carrington’s job as an assignor more difficult, he said it pays off in the long run.

“I encourage officials to take at least one weekend off to get away from hockey,” he said. “I certainly don't want to lose their services for a week, but the invigoration that it usually provides makes them a much more valuable asset over the course of the season.”

That’s huge in an industry where both mental and physical fatigue are commonplace.

“Every official runs into slumps, just as players do,” Faucette said. “You spend numerous hours alone as an official, and when things are not going good, where everything is negative, it can cause you duress.

“Positive thoughts and self-evaluations speed up recovery,” he continued. “So, instead of telling yourself, ‘I wonder what bad thing will happen tonight?’ say ‘I’m ready for anything – bring it on!’”

Have fun
It’s No. 3 here, but should be No. 1 on your to-do list.

“I realize the officials are all trying hard, and mistakes are part of any sport by any participant,” said Faucette, who currently serves as supervisor of officials for USA Hockey, the NAHL director of player safety and the SPHL director of officiating. “That being said, the joy I get out of seeing a young official start out at ground level and making the big time one day is immeasurable.”

For most of you reading this, the “big time” might not be the end goal (and that’s OK). But wherever you are, there’s experience you’ve gained, as well as that to come – which both point back to why you first got involved in this great sport.

As an assignor, Carrington tries to get out of the office as much as he can and intentionally varies the schedules of his officials to help keep things fresh. He also encourages his more senior officials to lend a hand to those who aren’t as long in the tooth.

“Going to the rink and helping officials help themselves get better can be very invigorating,” he said. “Even a very good, very experienced official will often find it fun and relaxing to mentor some new official at a lower-level game where the stress levels aren’t nearly as high.”

But no matter where you officiate, Carrington emphasizes keeping one thing in mind: the love of the sport and those playing it today.

“If you’re not having fun, you shouldn’t be out there.”

Gerry Letourneau Helps All Rhode Island Kids Get a Chance to Play

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By Mike Scandura - Special to USAHockey.com

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Shadow me

11/29/2016, 10:15am MST
By USA Hockey

Officials in Colorado Springs are benefitting from a shadow program

It was roughly five years ago when Tim Whitten noticed a problem in his association. Whitten, an assignor in the Southern Colorado Hockey Officials Association, observed that while new and young officials were signing up, few were returning the following season.

That’s when he berthed the idea of a shadow program.

Andy Flores, president of SCHOA, took time to tell us more about the program and how the association and its officials are reaping the benefits.

USA Hockey: How exactly did the shadow program come to be? What specific problems were you guys noticing?

Andy Flores:
It started with Tim Whitten. He found that we had a large exit rate, mostly because our newer and younger officials didn’t seem to be comfortable. We would be getting up to 10 new officials a year and we’d lose about 40 percent of them. When that happens, it puts a huge hole in your officials pool. So Tim came up with the idea to have veteran officials shadow newer officials to build their confidence on the ice.

USAH: How does the program work?

Flores:
The program is designed for the new officials, the Level 1s who are in their first year. For the first five games on the ice, they are assigned a shadow. It’s general for a game assignment, a 10U C-level game or something like that. Typically on the ice we will have one senior official, one second-year official and the new officials. The shadow is assigned and works with the new individual. After five games, the shadow identifies if the person needs a little more work or if they are strong and have gained enough knowledge to do it on their own. At that point, they don’t get assigned shadows anymore. If they need a little extra help, they are assigned a shadow as long as they need it.

USAH: Are the shadows technically working the game or are they there as a silent helper?

Flores:
The shadow’s primary job is to teach, not actually officiate. As a shadow you’re not there to influence the game. We don’t work in a capacity where we are working the game. We don’t call offsides, we don’t call icing and we don’t call penalties; it’s strictly educational purposes for the new individual. A shadow is there to give them support and confidence. A simple ‘Yes, you’re making the right call,’ or, ‘I would have maybe called offsides there,’ is what they are there for. That’s why we have shadows work at some of the lower levels of the game, because they are at a stage where coaches aren’t going to go after a ref for minor mistakes and it allows the new officials to learn in an environment where they aren’t necessarily going to get yelled at for everything.

USAH: What’s the feedback been like?

Flores:
The senior guys definitely love it. They enjoy the teaching aspect. That’s why I officiate, because I enjoy teaching the game as well as being a part of it, so for those senior guys, it’s fun to be sharing the knowledge. In Colorado Springs, our experience for our guys ranges anywhere from the NHL, USHL all the way down to the local stuff, so we have a vast array of knowledge. I think the newer officials are enjoying it, too. They keep coming back, so we must be doing something right.

USAH: Has the retention improved then?

Flores:
Absolutely. More than 60-70 percent stay on now for a second year. Plus, we’re getting anywhere from 20 to 30 new guys each year. It’s definitely had a positive impact.

USAH: So you would recommend that other officiating associations give a shadow program like this a try?

Flores:
Absolutely. You take advantage of those prime opportunities to teach at the time they’re occurring. You don’t have to holler across the ice to try and say ‘Hey, do this,’ or, ‘You can’t do that.’ You don’t want to spend time during the game and you don’t want to slow down the game. With the shadow program, you keep the game flowing while teaching. Plus, I can’t speak enough about the retention. People leave officiating because they don’t feel confident. Now we give them that confidence.

Tag(s): Men's National Team