Kevin Valenti did more than just spend some time in the weight room during the summer.
“A lot of guys make a commitment to the weight room, but they don’t make a real one,” said Bill Flanagan, Valenti’s coach with the Hudson, N.H.-based Northern Cyclones of the Eastern Hockey League. “He made a real one. He gained probably 15 pounds.”
Valenti emerged from the weight room as a new player. After producing just two goals and two assists in 25 games while playing the second half of last season with the Cyclones in what was then known as the Eastern Junior Hockey League, Flanagan is the runaway scoring leader in the revamped EHL.
“You could tell as soon as he walked into camp that he made that hard commitment to spend that additional time he needed to get stronger in his legs and upper body,” Flanagan said.
Valenti, a 20-year-old from Queensbury, N.Y., said he spent two hours in the weight room each day, concentrating primarily on his legs, doing squats and slides. In addition to increasing his squats by 140 pounds, he added upper-body strength while improving his bench press by 80 pounds.
Flanagan could immediately see the difference in training camp. Valenti already possessed the necessary skill set, something he thanks his coach for reminding him of when he was not producing as a junior hockey rookie.
“He has that strength and the confidence now,” Flanagan said. “He’s believing in his ability.”
Flanagan predicted that Valenti would have a much larger role with the Cyclones this time around.
“I didn’t really put a ton of confidence in myself, but coach Flanagan gave me a lot of confidence early in the season, telling me I was going to be one of the guys he was going to lean on,” Valenti said.
EHL opponents have been unable to slow down Valenti, who has 27 goals and 29 assists in 29 games. He has six-game winning goals and has produced 14 points on the power play and four while shorthanded, showing that he is a well-rounded player — a “two-way player who can score goals,” as Flanagan describes.
The Cyclones have gone 22-3 when getting points from a stronger, faster Valenti while going 0-4 when he has been shut out.
“I think I was pretty quick last year, but it was more of getting knocked off the puck,” Valenti said. “This year, I’m a lot stronger on the puck, I can drive wide on defensemen a lot easier and definitely get to the net and stay in front of the net by just being stronger and a few pounds heavier.”
Valenti has helped the Cyclones to second place in the North Division and a league high 121 total goals.
“We’ve really gelling right now,” Valenti said. “We’ve got a real good group of guys. Everyone’s real close and everyone’s starting to understand their roles.”
Valenti’s role has changed drastically in less than a year. After leading the National Sports Academy of Lake Placid, N.Y. in scoring and remaining there as a post-graduate student, he opened the 2012-13 season playing Canadian junior hockey. Things did not go well there and, although he started slowly with the Cyclones, he was happy that he worked out a move to New Hampshire.
“He’s been vital to our team,” said Flanagan, who has used Valenti to center different line combinations. “I wouldn’t say we’re blessed with many offensive juggernauts. We have to get scoring from him.
“We have a real good power play, and he’s an important guy there, too.”
Flanagan said Valenti essentially “came out of nowhere,” but scouts are beginning to see he’s legit.
Valenti has strong interest in playing at Division III Utica College in upstate New York, but the possibility of emerging from this season as a Division I prospect still exists.
“Playing Division I is every player’s dream,” he said. “I’ve gotten a few bites. I’m the prototypical late bloomer.
“They need to see a little more out of me in the second half of the season.”
The Northern Cyclones and their high-scoring offense are counting on that.
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.