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Cape Ann Youth Hockey: Doubling down on girls’ hockey pays off

01/14/2014, 4:45pm MST
By Tom Robinson - Special to

With the number of girls involved in its programs dwindling, the Cape Ann Youth Hockey board of directors decided not to give up. Instead, the Gloucester, Mass. organization increased its commitment to girls, offering more options that have already created strong growth in less than two years.

Cape Ann was down to just six girls playing co-ed hockey, and half of them were sticking just with house leagues and not the travel options. That’s when the association hosted and promoted girls’ hockey open houses in March and April of 2012 to begin its outreach program.

Cape Ann now puts three competitive girls’ travel teams on the ice, and they are quickly developing their own identity.

“They don’t have a lot of role models,” Cape Ann Director of Girls’ Hockey Andy Amigo said. “They’re not easily available. It’s not like you can put on the Bruins and see a girl out there playing and say, ‘Hey, I want to be like her.’

“We’re trying to build in that stuff and, so far, we’ve been very lucky. We’ve been successful in reaching out to people. And, we’ve had people reach back.”

At the first open house, Gloucester resident Ben Smith was there along with Julie Sasner to tell young girls about the growth of women’s hockey in the United States and around the world. Smith was the coach and Sasner an assistant for the first U.S. Olympic women’s team when it won gold in the 1998 Olympic Winter Games in Nagano, Japan.

After approximately 50 girls heard what Smith and Sasner had to say, Cape Ann wound up with two travel teams for the 2012-13 season and now has 33 girls on three teams this season.

Since hearing about Olympic women’s hockey, the Cape Ann girls have also developed a connection with the Harvard University women, who are ranked among the top NCAA Division I college teams in the country.

“Most like the experience of playing on a girls’ teams and having friends on the teams,” said Amigo, who has a daughter in the program and coaches the Under-12 team. “We try to do a lot of stuff with girls’ teams. We’ll go to see local girls’ college games.”

That led to the attachment to the Crimson program.

“Our colors are crimson and white,” Amigo said. “We wound up with a connection with the Harvard girls’ team. We go to Harvard girls’ games, take the team down, as many girls as want to go.

“A couple of the Harvard girls’ players last year, at the end of the season came up and ran one of our practices. We try to build those role models and connections for our girls to see, ‘There are girls just like you, and you can do whatever you want to do in the game of hockey.’”

The Cape Ann players even got to share a unique experience with the Harvard and Northeastern University women’s teams. The U12 and U14 Cape Ann teams made an intermission appearance at one of the nation’s iconic baseball parks during the game between the two college teams Jan. 2 as part of the Frozen Fenway series of games in Boston.

Those few minutes of fame were a big step for girls, who not long ago Amigo and others had feared were losing their place in the Cape Ann program.

Following the open houses, the association used USA Hockey’s American Development Model and stuck with its commitment to increasing participation by girls.

Now Cape Ann girls are part of the growth in female hockey around the country and in Massachusetts, which ranks second only to Minnesota among the states with the most girls playing.

The U12 team won its division of the Middlesex Yankee Conference Girls’ League last season when the U14 team came in third. Cape Ann moved up to the conference’s Major division for U12 teams this season and a U10 team was added.

Girls from other nearby communities on Massachusetts’ North Shore are now making their way to Gloucester to be part of the Cape Ann program.

Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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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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