When the Dual State Huskies were presented with an opportunity recently to partner with UMass-Lowell and change their name to the Dual State River Hawks, to match the college, the decision to accept was a no-brainer.
“The benefit is we have name recognition with UMass-Lowell, especially in the greater Boston area,” River Hawks President Brian Ferraro said. “The main thing is we’re able to work with UMass-Lowell and play at Tsongas Arena. The college players come out and work on skills with our younger players, and the young kids get a kick out of it.
“The older kids get a chance to talk to the college players and see what they’ve gone through to reach that level. They have an opportunity to hear from somebody who knows what they’ve gone through. It’s a great opportunity for our kids to have somebody to look up to.”
It certainly doesn’t hurt that UMass-Lowell posted a 28-11-2 record last year and reached the Frozen Four semifinals before being eliminated by Yale University.
Being able to use a facility like Tsongas Arena is a virtual necessity for the River Hawks considering that the organization added four teams this season.
“We’ve definitely expanded,” Ferraro said. “We were struggling at the younger age levels. Last year, we only had one Mite team, one Squirt team, one Bantam team and a development group. Now, we have two Mite and two Squirt teams and two Bantam teams [in addition to teams at the Midget level].
“By partnering with the UMass-Lowell brand name, we were able to generate some interest and get some coaches who’re very qualified. Some are former college players who came in, and we had them on board around the time the partnership was being consummated.”
Even before the partnership with UMass-Lowell was established, the then-Dual State Huskies proved to be attractive for boys. Exhibit A is a Peewee team.
“Several years ago my oldest son played on a Peewee team that was winless,” Ferraro said. “The kids stuck together and went on to play high school hockey. It would have been easy for the kids to play another sport.
“I think that’s a good statement in terms of they’re staying with it and having an opportunity to play high school hockey. Every one of our boys makes their high school team. That’s phenomenal because we’ve had some down years.”
Not surprisingly, the River Hawks embrace USA Hockey’s American Development Model.
“From our standpoint, it’s about getting kids on the ice, getting more reps and more touches of the puck,” Ferraro said. “That’s more important than playing a game. The more times an elite player touches the puck makes a huge difference. We can put players on the ice and play cross-ice games and do drills where we’re constantly repeating them.
“From constantly doing it over and over has reaffirmed that the ADM is the right way to go. Just watching the players go through the drills and seeing the smiles on their faces is great. We try to make it fun for them.”
Ferraro emphasized that development is paramount with the River Hawks, which, again, is a benefit of the ADM.
“We pride ourselves on trying to develop players,” he said. “We’re putting a huge focus on that now. That’s one of our learning tools.”
Ferraro and other River Hawks coaches and executives also take pride in the fact that alumni haven’t forgotten their roots.
“It’s satisfying to see the kids develop not only into hockey players but also seeing them be successful in terms of carrying that over into their work life and developing into young men,” he said. “It’s nice to see these young men coming back because some have kids of their own.
“They pop into the rink. It’s great to see where they are and what they’re doing.”
The River Hawks play in the Eastern Hockey Federation, which merged with Hockey Northeast. That merger, too, has been a success.
“It’s the level of competition,” explained Ferraro. “You want to be able to go in and play each game where it’s a one- or two-goal game. The merger happened late. But for ensuing seasons, the idea is to get to one- or two-goal games as opposed to a 10-1 game. I would prefer to lose 5-3 instead of win 10-1.
“We want to make sure that playing competitive games is more important than wins and losses. We want to get something out of every game.”
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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