COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – Pennsylvania is the gold-medal state it was announced today by The USA Hockey Foundation in wrapping up its “Paint America Red, White and Blue” fundraising campaign that spanned the month of December.
The Keystone State's 32 donations led the nation, thus giving it the gold-medal designation. Michigan was not far behind with 27 donors and Massachusetts finished third with 24 donations. Contributions also came from newer hockey markets, including Louisiana, Alabama and South Carolina. In total, some 300 people took part with more than $40,000 raised to benefit the continued advancement of hockey in the United States.
“We couldn’t be more thankful to those that participated in this very first Paint America Red, White and Blue campaign,” said Dave Ogrean, executive director of USA Hockey and The USA Hockey Foundation. “The contributions received will help further opportunities in the sport at all levels and we are so appreciative of every single gift.”
The USA Hockey Foundation supports USA Hockey efforts that provide opportunities to disabled and disadvantaged youth; help increase participation through a variety of initiatives; enhance the safety of the game; help the U.S. be the best internationally; provide education programs for athletes, coaches, officials and parents; and celebrate the game through commemoration.
Professional hockey players are quick to tell you how lucky they are to have the greatest job in the world. To continue playing a game that hooked them in their youth, and do it on an international and national stage, can’t be beat.
But oftentimes retirement comes sooner than hoped. National teams and NHL memories vividly remain, but players are forced to find another calling. Many find roles away from the ice. Some stay involved in hockey by jumping behind the bench.
“As time goes on and you get closer to the end of your playing days, you start to wonder ‘How do I stay in this game?’ because it’s such a big part of your life,” said 2014 United States Olympic Men’s Hockey Team assistant coach Tony Granato. “(Coaching) doesn’t replace playing, but it’s as close as you can get to being a part of a team.”
USA Hockey alumni are scattered around the world in coaching positions. They can be found at nearly every level of the game leading new generations of players.
Learning from Coaches Past
Granato suited up for seven USA Hockey international teams, including in the 1988 U.S. Olympic squad. He also enjoyed a 13-year NHL career after a prosperous four years at the University of Wisconsin.
“I was lucky enough to play for Bob Johnson (at Wisconsin). From an American standpoint, he was a coach that I always admired and thought ‘Wow, it’d be nice someday to be able to stay in the game and coach,’” said Granato, currently an assistant coach with the Detroit Red Wings. “He was the first coach I had that made me think about it. The passion he had for the game and the way he made it fun for me as a player. He was a pretty good role model.”
Teaching from Experience
Peter Laviolette, another 2014 U.S. Olympic Men’s Team assistant, has frequently drawn from his own experience as a player when leading an NHL or U.S. National Team. The 49-year-old is a two-time Olympian with 13 seasons of NHL coaching and one Stanley Cup to his credit. He ranks second in career victories among U.S.-born NHL coaches with 389.
“Having that first-hand experience as a player comes through more than you think,” said Laviolette, who’s entering his first season as Nashville Predators’ head coach. “I know I might not have been thinking about it from a coaching standpoint at 20 years old, but trying to figure out the game even back then helps now. You can use that experience as a foundation for leading a team.”
Katie King Crowley, head coach of the women’s team at Boston College, is regularly reminded of her playing days. A well-recognized U.S. Olympian, she added three pieces of hardware to USA Hockey’s shelf as a member of the 1998 (gold), 2002 (silver) and 2006 (bronze) squads.
“It’s funny, I get a lot of kids who used to have posters or pictures of our teams,” said King Crowley with a laugh. “It’s weird to think about how they are all college-aged kids now and back then they were just these little kids. I have an incoming freshman, Gabriella Switaj, her parents sent me a picture from when she was probably 8 or 9 of the two of us together at (USA Hockey) Annual Congress, so it’s really fun to go back through time that way.”
King Crowley also uses her experience when preparing players for the next step. She adds that having been through the tryout process and national training camps gives her players an extra shoulder to lean on through the pressures.
Even as USA Hockey alums trade in their numbers for a sports coat and tie, one thing remains the same: They continue to make an impact on the sport that gave to them.
“One of the biggest rewards for coaching is that you realize you’re now a part of a player’s development,” Granato said. “You’re now trying to make people better and players better. You’re helping give them an opportunity to fill in those (USA Hockey) skates you left behind.”
Maybe coaching is the second greatest job in the world.
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