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Ice Dogs girls’ teams are thriving in Northern Virginia

12/13/2013, 4:15pm MST
By Tom Robinson - Special to

Peter Townsend decided to take a different approach when he began coaching girls. The response was so positive that the Northern Virginia Ice Dogs girls’ hockey director has continued it through what is now the fifth season of all-girls' teams based out of the Mount Vernon Rink in Alexandria, Va.

The NOVA Ice Dogs have grown from one girls’ team to seven in just four years.

“Since we were trying to grow the program, it was all positive reinforcement,” Townsend said of the program’s beginning days. “We were forced to do that because we had a lot of beginners.

“It definitely worked. The girls responded well and there were a lot smiles.”

Townsend, who still coaches boys’ hockey in the spring, readily acknowledges that he now consciously coaches girls and boys differently.

“They [girls] took the instruction better and they improved quicker, relatively,” Townsend said. “It seemed to work and we ran with it.”

The approach has proved successful in ways that can be measured — number of players involved and the results they have produced — and, Townsend believes, in intangibles such as an enjoyable atmosphere that has made both the girls and their parents happy.

This season, the Ice Dogs have an Under-16 girls’ team, two teams each at the U14 and U12 levels and a U10 team playing full schedules. A Mites team will participate in some selected girls’ jamborees. The schedules for those teams vary.

The stronger U12 team plays in both boys’ and girls’ travel leagues. The stronger U14 team will play outside the Washington, D.C. area more often and take aim at trying to qualify for nationals. The U10 team will not travel farther than Pennsylvania.

“I think the biggest thing is we’ve created a very positive environment,” Townsend said. “I’ve coached both boys and girls. For the boys, you kind of push by yelling at them. The girls, there is more positive reinforcement and I really think the girls feed off of that.”

The Ice Dogs girls’ program includes additional activities for the players, including some that stretch beyond hockey.

The girls have had clinics with the Tier I Washington Pride girls’ team and with players from the Junior Women’s Hockey League. They skated with students from a Russian hockey school and served as flag bearers at Washington Capitals National Hockey League games.

In the past, the girls in the program had a party with a water slide. On the weekend before Christmas this year, they will have a Christmas party built around all of the teams playing at the rink back-to-back and cheering for each other.

The holiday party is just one way Townsend seeks to keep a connection between the teams.

“Last year, we had a buddy program where we paired older girls with younger girls,” he said. “A player from U14 might have a buddy on a U10 team. The U14 player would watch the U10 game, make a sign and cheer for her and would meet with them and talk to them both before and after the game.”

Townsend has generally found a much better response from the girls since they have had their own program.

“There is a small percentage that would be more confortable and rather play with the boys,” he said. “I have found that most girls like playing with other girls. They have more fun, they play harder and, from a coaching standpoint, they listen better.”

Townsend said he enjoys coaching the girls and gets more feedback from them than the boys he coaches.

The comfort level that has been created has not been a detriment to winning.

The Ice Dogs won the Chesapeake Bay Hockey League U12A regular-season title in 2012-13 after the program won a regular-season and two playoff titles the year before and their first regular-season title in the 2010-11 season. In March, the U12B team won the program’s eighth Pony Tail Tournament title. The U14 team won the New Jersey Rockets Tournament in the 2012-13 season.

Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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08/25/2015, 3:30pm MDT
By USA Hockey

No one has ever said that officiating, and especially officiating ice hockey, was easy. Rule knowledge, communication skills, fitness, skating and a natural presence are just some of the skills 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 national official staff members, along with our volunteer referees-in-chief and local supervisors, have heard growing concerns over a decreasing level of integrity 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 do 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.

An example of this type of unacceptable behavior occurred last season. A Level 2 adult official tended to work his games with a chip on his shoulder. He often created confrontation with coaches, alienated his younger partners with inaccurate advice and disregarded their help in attempting to get some calls and rule applications right. Even though the help they were providing was correct, he chose to maintain his incorrect position that affected the outcome of several games. He also tended to identify certain players and single them out for various infractions and/or on-ice lectures as a means of emphasizing his authority.

Once the trends were identified, concerns were voiced by several parents and coaches to the local assigner and supervisor, who acknowledged they had never seen the official’s work, but would keep throwing him out there working the same teams and levels that had expressed concerns regarding his attitude. This included intentionally assigning him a playoff game involving the coach who was the most vocal in expressing concerns. This official was then instructed to “throw the coach out if he says anything.”

That playoff game went without a hitch – a tight 2-1 game with a couple of close off-side plays and maybe an icing or two missed. In the post-game dressing room, the official in question, in the presence of his partners and the officials scheduled to work the next game, said, “It’s always a great day when you can make one or both of the coaches mad. It’s too bad the white team coach didn’t want to play along today.” The partners sat there in silence until finally a 12-year-old Level 1 official who was working the next game said, “I don’t think that’s right. We’re not supposed to bait coaches.”

The official got dressed quickly and left the room without saying another word. Kind of ironic that it was the innocent 12-year-old that seemed to “get it” and instill a sense of accountability among those in the room. Imagine how any 12-year-old player feels on the ice when they see the official(s) displaying an attitude that is simply not to the standard the game deserves. And yes, more often than not, they can see through those who do not have the level of integrity expected.

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 have 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 only if 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. Maybe that’s fair, or maybe not, but it is the expectation we are required to meet.

As we head into the 2015-16 season, ask yourself if you are willing to meet that expectation. If the answer is yes, welcome back and we look forward to a great season.

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