Lexie Laing has been playing competitive hockey since she was 6, so there’s nothing new to her about lacing up her skates and putting on a uniform.
Yet when she slipped on her USA jersey for the first time as a member of the Women’s Under-18 National Team, she admits it was special.
Laing, 16, a promising forward from Marblehead, Mass., was getting ready to take the ice against Russia in the opening game of the International Ice Hockey Federation U-18 Women’s World Championship in Finland on Dec. 29 when she knew she’d crossed a threshold.
“This moment will most likely be in my memory for the rest of my life,” she wrote recently from Finland in an email interview. “That first time I pulled the jersey over my head a bunch of feelings started rushing through my body. Nerves, excitement, anticipation and any other happy emotion you could think of rushed through my body.
“That moment, everything had changed and everything had become real. I was about to represent USA.”
Nerves or no nerves, Laing played well in her debut, getting an assist in Team USA’s 7-0 victory over the Russians. In her second game, she added another assist in a 10-0 win over the Czech Republic. The U.S. continued to roll, beating Sweden 8-0 and then topping the Czechs again in the semifinals, 10-0 — with Laing recording another assist — to set up a showdown with Canada for the gold medal, which the Canadians won 2-1 in overtime.
For Laing, the entire experience of traveling to Finland, getting to know new teammates and coaches and competing for the national team in an international tournament for the first time has been tremendous.
Though Laing has had a successful youth career and comes from a family rich in hockey experience, her participation in the U-18 World Championship has been an eye-opener. For one thing, the talent she’s playing with and against has forced her to adapt and play a different game than even what she’s been used to on a very successful Assabet Valley club program in Massachusetts.
“I’ve learned to keep my head up and move the puck to the open player right away, instead of making another stickhandle and either losing the puck or making a bad play,” she wrote. “Another thing I’ve learned is to be a lot faster, because as soon as I touch the puck someone is on top of me, especially at such a high level of play.”
She says playing with new teammates and raising her game was “challenging, at first,” but she believes she grew.
The trip, however, has been about more than just hockey. The flight, the jet lag, the new people, a foreign country (and a new language), new friends and essentially being on her own turned it into a learning experience.
The first thing she noticed upon arriving in Finland was its beautiful countryside and “a lot of snow” — on the roads and in piles everywhere. At first, because of the time difference, she had trouble sleeping and kept waking up in the middle of the night. Eventually, though, she settled in. The Finns were friendly, and many of the workers at the rink took time to teach her words and phrases in their language.
For Laing (who prefers to go by Lexie rather than her given name of Alexandria) it’s all been one more step in her hockey and life education.
Her father, Dennis Laing, a coach and former college and pro player, got his youngest daughter on skates almost as soon as she could walk, and she soon was playing hockey just like her older sisters Denna and Brianna. Denna now plays for Princeton, and Brianna — a goaltender on the U.S. team that won a silver medal at last year’s IIHF U-18 World Championship — has committed to play at Harvard.
When she was first learning to skate, Lexie says she initially thought she might want to be a figure skater, but that passed, and soon she was winning championships and accolades in hockey. She’s helped Assabet Valley win three USA Hockey national championships (2008-09, 2012), won the 2009 USA Hockey Easton Skills Competition for 12-and-Under and helped her Noble and Greenough School to championships in 2011 and ’12.
She says her father has been the biggest influence in her hockey career, but her sisters, too, have been invaluable supporters.
She said it was Brianna who gave her advice before going off to Finland, telling her to trust in her game and work hard.
“Before I left she told me, ‘You know how to play, so just go out and play because if you think about each mistake and each play then you will start to make more mistakes.’ ” Also, her sister told her: work hard, take advice and have fun.
When Laing returns to the States, she hopes to help Assabet Valley win another national title. Eventually, she’d like to play college hockey like her sisters, with her sights set on someday being part of a U.S. Olympic Team — and perhaps pulling on another Team USA jersey at an Olympic venue.
That, she says, would “fulfill my dreams as a little girl to be an Olympian.”
For now, though, her goal is simple: work as hard as she can to reach her “fullest potential.”
So far, she’s skating in the right direction.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.
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.
Tag(s): Women's National Team