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As girls’ hockey grows, Huskies Youth Hockey diversifies teams

12/05/2013, 4:45pm MST
By Tom Robinson - Special to USAHockey.com

Girls have donned the sweaters of Huskies Youth Hockey at various times over the past 15 years. It was not until recently, however, that the girls’ side really began to grow at the Gorham, Maine-based association.

Under the guidance of Girls Program Director Ruth Ann LaBrecque, the girls’ program grew enough to add a second team in 2012. Both teams played at the 14-and-under level, though, so in 2013 they had to decide whether one should switch age groups. The Huskies, who play at the University of Southern Maine Ice Arena in Gorham, watched what other organizations were doing before making their decision.

“We were waiting to see if we would break it into two 14U teams, or a 12U team, depending on what was out there with other clubs,” LaBrecque said.

With other programs in Maine producing 12-and-under teams, the Huskies decided to go with a 14U and a 12U this season rather than two 14Us.

There are 13 girls playing on the 14U team and 12 more on the 12U team that plays against three other similar clubs around Maine throughout the regular season.

“We’re able to stay in state that way,” LaBrecque said of adding the 12U team. “There’s enough teams for us that it’s not too far a distance for us to travel. We don’t have one star-studded team. We keep it age appropriate.”

Now that girls’ hockey has become a consistent part of the Huskies’ program each year, LaBrecque is concentrating on growth. She said she does not have any particular goals about adding teams at a certain age, but she just wants more girls to see what the program has to offer.

The Huskies are using different methods to try to recruit new families to the program. Youngsters in southern Maine are introduced to the sport through a Break the Ice program. Coaches and administrators are undergoing training in USA Hockey’s American Development Model.

“We have a free day of hockey and learn to skate,” LaBrecque said. “We try to entice people that way and get the word out. We’re moving toward the next step in our club. … We’re really striving to make the program more attractive and draw more people into the club.

“We have a step-up program, so they start with Break the Ice and they work their way up.”

On the youngest levels, the girls still play with the boys in a house league. As they are ready for the U12 team, the girls have a place to play together against other girls’ teams from programs in Maine and, at tournament time, elsewhere.

“We’re planting a seed for the future,” LaBrecque said. “I feel like this is going to be a clutch year for us. We have a very committed board and the coaching director we have now has just gone the extra mile.”

Nathan Spooner, the coaching director, coaches the U14 Huskies girls.

“He’s completely dedicated to making sure our organization is top-notch,” LaBrecque said. “We’re getting the right training for the coaches and making it easier for the coaches to communicate to the kids how to have fun and how to play the game of hockey.”

Mary Guimond coaches the U12 team.

LaBrecque said she expects the final schedule to work out to about 20-25 games for each team.

Playing with two U14 teams a year ago, the Huskies ended the season with one of those teams winning a tournament in Dover, N.H.

“We’re just really excited and looking forward to a great year,” LaBrecque said.

Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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Integrity and accountability is paramount

02/17/2017, 11:15am MST
By Matt Leaf - USA Hockey Director of Officiating Education

Nobody ever said that officiating—especially officiating ice hockey—was easy. Rule knowledge, communication skills, fitness, skating and a natural presence are just some of the abilities 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 USA Hockey national office staff members, along with our volunteer referees-in-chief and local supervisors, have heard growing concerns over a decreasing level of personal pride 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 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.

The concerns that come forward range from an overall lack of effort to continued misapplication of the rules to a blatant targeting of an individual player/coach in abuse of power situations.  Granted, calls and emails received are generally taken with a grain of salt, but after some further investigation, there are many cases where the complaints have merit.  We expect players and coaches to be responsible for the equipment they wear, for their actions on the ice and for upholding sportsmanlike behavior at all times. The officiating community must also be held accountable for those areas that put into question the professionalism and the integrity of our team.

No one has ever demanded perfection from our officials, nor does USA Hockey place that expectation on us. But we do expect our officials to know the rules, give 100 percent effort on the ice, regardless as to the level of the game, and maintain a level of integrity that can never be questioned.

Officials should hold themselves accountable in these areas and acknowledge when a mistake is made, learn from it and do what is necessary to make sure the same mistake does not happen again. At the same time, local officiating leadership has to lead by example and set the tone for accountability and, unfortunately, failure at this level is what does the most damage to the game and our credibility. 

When the officials that everyone is supposed to look up to can’t meet these expectations, it trickles down and minimizes the potential for success for any official in that area. It is here where the affiliates, local supervisors of officials and local leagues must take a vested interest in the success of the game and officiating by establishing clear expectations and then holding those officials who refuse to meet those expectations accountable for their actions. This can be done through continuing education, game fee fines or possibly even suspension.

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 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 it must be 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. That is the expectation we are required to meet.

As we finish off the 2016-17 season, ask yourself if you are willing to meet that expectation and if you have been doing so throughout the season. If the answer is no, the off-season would provide a great opportunity to reflect on whether officiating is worth continuing for you.

Hockey Week Across America brings all officials together

02/17/2017, 11:30am MST
By USA Hockey

Many of us imagine what goes on in a locker room before a National Hockey League game. The strategic talk, the rituals with putting on equipment, the catching up with league business. It’s the place where some of the best athletes prepare for the physical, mental and emotional battle of a game. In some cases, a team has the advantage of home turf. In other cases, a team has the challenge of unfamiliar ice. However, in yet another case, a team has the challenge of never having a home game.

NHL officials are sometimes acknowledged as the third team on the ice. While they never worry about wins or line-changes, they still use their pre-game time to prepare physically and mentally. It’s the time when they leave their personal to-do lists and family matters behind and work together to make sure each member of the team is ready to get into position, execute sharp judgment and support each other when a partner gets blocked out from play.

So how do the officials prepare? Twenty-six grassroots USA Hockey officials will find out this month during USA Hockey’s 10th annual Hockey Week Across America. During Hockey Week, the entire country will celebrate the success, passion and everything great about the American hockey community. This includes the Meet the NHL Officials program.

We connected with BJ Ringrose, coordinator of the USA Hockey Officiating Program, for a Q-and-A about the Meet the NHL Officials initiative.

USA Hockey: What exactly is the Meet the NHL Officials program?

BJ Ringrose:
This program offers the opportunity for young, grassroots USA Hockey officials to meet NHL officials before a game in their dressing room, and then stick around to watch them work.

USA Hockey: That sounds like a great opportunity for these kids.

Ringrose: Absolutely. Officials are no different from players. They develop heroes and mentors among the referees at the higher levels of the game. They watch an NHL, NCAA or USHL game and think, “I want to be that guy!” The Hockey Weekend program gives them a chance to meet their heroes in a familiar informal setting and ask the NHL officials questions about their paths to success and how to advance.

USA Hockey: Have you ever received any feedback from the NHL officials about these meetings?

Ringrose: We correspond a lot with the NHL and NHL Officials Association leading up to Hockey Weekend and we usually get a quick note from some of the officials after the meeting thanking us for the opportunity, and expressing how great the kids are. For the NHL officials, this meeting reminds them of the grassroots levels they developed their craft in.

The NHL officials have shown a lot of support for this program and we appreciate everything the league and officials do to make this opportunity happen.

USA Hockey: So the program is basically a short meeting with the officials and then a free ticket to the game. Is there anything else

Ringrose: In addition to the league and officials, the various host NHL teams have really embraced this program. A lot of them are expanding the program to include tours of the arena, media room and video replay booth. Others are asking the kids to bring their skates and uniform and allowing them to participate in the pre-game skate and anthem.

USA Hockey: So these young officials are allowed to stand with their heroes at center ice during the National Anthem in front of thousands of fans?

Ringrose: Yes, one referee even brought the kids over to the home-team bench for a quick pre-game word with the coach. The head coach shook hands with them; that was fun to watch.

USA Hockey: It’s amazing how much access to an NHL game these kids get to experience.

Ringrose: It’s potentially a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to build serious dedication to officiating in these young referees. While the mentoring and other features of these events are great, the underlying goal is to develop a lifetime official who will give back to the USA Hockey game regardless of what level he or she reaches.

USA Hockey: OK, we’re sold. How do people get a chance to participate?

Ringrose: This year we introduced an online nomination system that allowed parents, officials, assignors, supervisors or anyone to nominate a young grassroots official for this opportunity. In the past, the participants were selected by the local USA Hockey officiating supervisors in the NHL markets. However, this online nomination system has opened up the opportunity for more kids to be considered.

USA Hockey: So what happens to the nominations?

Ringrose: They are forwarded to the district referees-in-chief of the respective officials. The district RIC’s work with their support staff to learn more about the kids and decide who would benefit most from the opportunity. They consider age, experience, attitude, professionalism and officiating goals. Once they identify the participants, they pass me the names and I begin coordinating with the league and teams.

The nomination system for 2018 Hockey Weekend Across America will re-open in October 2017. Please
CLICK HERE for more information.

Kelleher On Success of Try Hockey For Free

02/20/2017, 2:30pm MST
By John Tranchina

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Tag(s): News & Features