The Boston Junior Bruins dropped two of their first three games in this season’s move to the United States Premier Hockey League Premier Division. Even in that start, however, there were clear signs of the traits that would carry the Bruins to the top of their new league.
“We weren’t giving up many goals,” Bruins coach Peter Masters said. “We had dominated the Portland game. We just couldn’t score.
“The 1-2 start didn’t worry us.”
It shouldn’t have.
The Bruins had been together for just three practices and did not have their line combinations and power play set in the 2-0 loss to the Portland Junior Pirates, but they held a shot advantage and gave up the second goal in the final five minutes. The offense and special teams were bound to improve, and the defense and goaltending had already established themselves.
After dropping another 2-0 game — to the Jersey Hitmen with the second goal coming into an empty net in the closing seconds — Boston has made its way to the top of the USPHL Premier Division standings at 25-3-2-1. The Bruins have just one regulation loss in 30 games since the 1-2 start and have none in the last 12 games.
The offense has made its way to third-most productive in the league while the defense, led by Zach Todd and boosted by the play of standout goalie Sean Lawrence, is the best in the league.
“Our top four guys on defense will all end up being D-I guys,” Masters said.
Todd, who had played in the Bruins feeder programs before playing junior hockey in Canada, has emerged as the leader of that group. The Holden, Mass. resident, who will be 21 later this month, is fourth in scoring among league defensemen with eight goals and 14 assists in 30 games.
“His plus/minus stats are off the charts,” Masters said of Todd’s plus-43, compared to the plus-20 that is second-best on the team.
As those numbers reflect, Todd has been doing much more than producing points.
“Offensively, he’s great on the power play,” Masters said. “If there’s ever been a knock on him, it would have been his play without the puck. He’s always been great with it.
“He’s worked through that issue. Now, his play without the puck is excellent.”
Todd has joined by Connor Doherty and Kevin McKernan, two players on the Junior Bruins when they competed in the Eastern Junior Hockey League last season, and Zach Malatesta, who has moved up from the Bruins Under-16 team from a year ago.
Doherty has already played Division I hockey at UMass-Amherst and is looking to restart his college career. McKernan has committed to Quinnipiac University. Malatesta is a top young prospect after his all-star performance at USA Hockey’s Select 17 Festival.
Masters describes Doherty as an “excellent shut-down defenseman with a big shot from the point.”
McKernan provides steady play.
“He’s not spectacular at anything, but he’s good at everything,” Masters said.
Together Doherty and McKernan have contributed 17 and 15 points, while Andy Michailidis, another holdover from last season's Eastern Junior team, has 14.
Although Masters said he was confident right from the start, the team has exceeded those expectations.
“With Lawrence, who is the strongest goaltender in the league, I figured we’d be somewhere in the top four,” Masters said. “I had a good feeling we’d be competitive.”
Boston is the league’s only team to allow fewer than two goals per game and is nearly a full goal better than all but the third-place Hitmen.
Lawrence, also a Quinnipiac recruit, leads the league’s goalies statistically with wins (21), shutouts (three), goals-against average (1.83) and save percentage (.940).
A slow start is long forgotten.
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.