INDIAN TRAIL, N.C. – Standing at attention with his victorious sled hockey teammates Saturday night, defenseman Nikko Landeros heard his name announced and slowly slid to the officials’ platform. He delicately reached out during a presentation of his first-place medal. He held the prize with care.
It was the first thing the rugged defenseman handled gently here last week during the inaugural USA Hockey Sled Cup at Extreme Ice Center. Goalie Steve Cash contributed standout goaltending. Forwards Josh Pauls, Declan Farmer and Dan McCoy provided scoring punch to a balanced attack. Adding muscle, of course, was Landeros.
“I clobber people a lot,” Landeros said with a grin about 90 minutes prior to Saturday’s 5-2, cup-final victory over Korea.
Landeros proved it, totaling four penalty minutes Saturday. For the tourney, he was called for five minors.
In a team-wide effort described by coach Jeff Sauer as “undisciplined,” Team USA twice was forced to fend off two-man advantages during the first period.
“We had too many [penalties],” Sauer said.
Landeros made up for his turnstile approach to the penalty box by notching what proved to be the cup-clinching goal. He scored it with style, deking a Korean defender and gliding along the point. He “fired” a wobbly, knuckle-ball shot. It floated over the shoulder of surprised goalie Mangyun Yu (18 saves).
Sauer was asked about “the goal-scorer’s goal.” He shook his head. “You can make what you want it to be,” Sauer joked.
The U.S. outscored its three opponents 17-2 during the four-day event. The first-place finish maintains the momentum the squad has been building the past three years, coming off the 2012 World Sledge Hockey Challenge championship last December.
“Our strength is speed and puck movement — and goaltending,” Sauer said.
Defensive depth is also proving to be an asset. Team USA last week played without top defenseman Taylor Chace. How did the players respond to a shorter rotation? They didn’t allow a goal for the tournament’s first 157 minutes 34 seconds. Landeros was asked if the defense stepped up or were the forwards providing extra help?
“A little of both,” he said.
Added alternate captain Taylor Lipsett: “It just shows how deep we are.”
Cash and backup goalie Jen Yung Lee opened the tournament last Wednesday by combining to blank the U.S. Developmental team, 5-0. The defense only allowed five shots on goal. On Thursday, in the initial matchup between Team USA and upstart Russia, Cash turned aside all 13 shots he faced in the 4-0 victory. On Friday, in the first of consecutive wins over Korea, Cash and Lee shared duties during the 3-0 victory.
Offensively, Pauls placed first in tourney scoring with two goals and five assists. In just his second appearance with the national team, Farmer, a 15-year-old forward, collected one goal and four assists. McCoy scored twice in the cup final.
The U.S. Developmental team went 0-4 during the first international competition hosted at the Extreme Ice Center. The venue is scheduled to stage additional sled hockey events in the future.
“We like it,” Landeros said. “It’s a good facility with cool people. The Logano family has been real helpful.”
The Loganos are listed as part owners of the facility. Joey Logano, the NASCAR Sprint Cup driver, donated $15,000 to the sled hockey program prior to the U.S.-Russia showdown.
During Saturday’s Sled Cup final, Team USA jumped out to a 2-0 lead 6:05 into the second period on goals by forward Paul Schaus, on the power play, and McCoy.
One minute, 29 seconds after McCoy’s goal, Korea forward Seunghwan Jung registered the first tally against Team USA during the event.
Third-period goals by McCoy and forward Adam Page helped clinch the title.
Moments after the final buzzer sounded, Landeros was the first to greet Cash and centered himself in the middle of the on-ice celebration. He surely “clobbered” a few guys there, too.
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.
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