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Intensity Key to U.S. Victory in Final

12/07/2012, 10:15am MST
By Brian Smith

The U.S. National Sled Team will take to the ice in the championship game of the 2012 World Sledge Hockey Challenge tomorrow (Dec. 8) against fierce rival Canada. Having lost to the Canadian squad once this tournament, the U.S. team knows they need to turn the intensity up a notch to come away with a victory.
“I’d like to see us play with the grit that Canada does,” said U.S. National Sled Team head coach Jeff Sauer after running his team through a 90-minute practice. “Each time one of those guys pulls that maple leaf on their chest, they’re ready to go. We need to come out with that same aggressive attitude tomorrow.”
While the United States has physically dominated each of game they have won this tournament, the matchup with Canada proved to be much more of a test to the young and internationally inexperienced Team USA. Despite their youth, forward Alexi Salamone said they enjoy playing physical and were not intimidated by Canada’s ferocity.
“I think we like playing the hard-nosed game,” the Buffalo, N.Y. native said. “That said, there’s a time and a place for it. We just need to stay focused and play our game and use our speed to our advantage.”
Captain Taylor Chace agreed with Salamone, nothing his team’s speed is the real advantage they hold over opponents.
“We’re obviously a young, fast team and we need to recognize that,” he said. “If we get caught up trying to be too physical at the wrong time, we’ll pay for it and hockey is a game of mistakes. We need to capitalize on and play to our strengths.”
Despite bracing for impact from the collision with Canada tomorrow night, the U.S. remains steady in its pre-game routine and won’t deviate from the status quo. Consistency is key to proper preparation.
“Of course the game will be more intense against Canada,” said Salamone.  “There are main competition and we battle every time we play them. We just need to keep things simple and do what we’ve always done and we’ll be ok. It comes down to team chemistry and who wants it more.”
Chace said that his team has been preparing for this game all tournament, making sure to take care of the things they needed to be successful, both on and off the ice.
“We just need to treat it like any other game and be ready,” the New Hampshire product said. “We’re going to rest up, drink as much water as we can, get some food in us and go to sleep. It’s as simple as that. We’ll be ready.”

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A follow-up to Ian Walsh's NHL career-path article (see Stripes - February 2015)

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): World Sled Challenge