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Fair play, parity are top priorities for Buckeye Travel Hockey League

01/24/2014, 6:00pm MST
By Mike Scandura - Special to USAHockey.com

Every youth league regardless of the sport stresses the importance of fair play, good sportsmanship and kids having fun..

“Every team starts with a Fair Play Point and can lose it based on the criteria,” said league president Jason Bowra. “Our original goal was to stop serious injuries. As a coach, some parents, players and officials became very obnoxious.

“Last year I had one disciplinary meeting because a kid received a match penalty. Out of all of the games we played last season (over 1,000), there only were two fights. The kids are thinking, and the coaches are preaching to the kids and parents: ‘If you get a major penalty, you’re going to lose a Fair Point.’ The kids are thinking about hits from behind and headshots. We’ve seen a major reduction in disciplinary hearings to the point where they’re almost unheard of.”

A team can earn — and earn is the operative word — a Fair Play Point with a victory, a tie and even a loss. The points are used to determine league standings per division and for seeding for championship tournaments.

The following is a list of a few ways in which a team can lose a Fair Play Point:

  • If one or more coaches is assessed a game misconduct or match penalty during or after a game.
  • If one or more of a team’s parents or fans are ejected from the game by the referees under the rules of USA Hockey.
  • If a team exceeds a specified threshold for penalty minutes during regulation time or after a game is completed. For Squirts the limit is 10 minutes, for Peewees the limit is 12 minutes and for Bantams the limit is 14 minutes.

In addition, while youth leagues generally strive for parity, not all are as successful as the Buckeye Travel Hockey League at reaching this goal. That’s due in large part to the league’s pre-season seeding tournament.

“We have an application that each team fills out,” Bowra said. “It gives us an idea if a team is A or AA. We break down the A teams into Gold, Silver and Bronze. They apply and project where they should be.

“If they’re borderline, we have them play against each other. For example, we may have two teams that project themselves as AA. Each team plays a 25-minute, non-stop game with minimal whistles. You can’t make changes on a whistle. From the score, we can evaluate the teams. A Buckeye representative is at each game and looks at the intangibles plus the number of kids on a roster.”

After that, teams are ranked from 1 to 40.

“It’s not always perfect, but we have parity between all of our leagues,” Bowra said. “Last year we had 10 championship games and each one was decided by two or fewer goals and three went into overtime.”

Want more proof? In the Great Lakes Fall Classic, which was held over the first weekend in January in Holland, Mich., 12 BTHL teams won championships in their respective divisions with six championship games decided by one goal or in overtime and three more decided by two goals.

“We feel that with 75 percent of the championship games at or under a two-goal differential is pretty good,” Bowra said.

What’s also “pretty good” is the fact that this season the total number of teams in the BTHL has increased from 69 to 98.

“When the economy tanked a few years ago we took a bit,” Bowra explained. “But one of the biggest things we have going for ourselves is that we focus on Squirts, Peewees and Bantams. We focus on those three divisions.

“When we’re looking at the divisions, some are split between Silver East and West. We look at parity first and then geography. We had one 14-team division and split it in half. We looked at it from a geographical standpoint so that all teams are in the East or West. When the playoffs are held, then teams will cross over.”

There’s more. The BTHL had four new organizations come on board this season and two the previous season. Overall, the league had 20 organizations in Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky and West Virginia which is a new state that signed up this season.

USA Hockey’s American Development Model is a major component of the BTHL.

“The ADM is the definitive benefit,” Bowra said. “In the Midwest, hockey is second nature because a lot of our studs play football, baseball and basketball. The ADM forces parents, kids and coaches to focus on skills like skating, passing and stickhandling before [they] learn how to play the game.

“In Ohio, it’s all about getting that Division I scholarship. This is a great opportunity to tell mom and dad that we’re going to focus on skills first. I think it’s a good opportunity for kids to learn skills because as you get older you won’t learn skills as easily as you would when you’re younger.”

Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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Life of an NHL Official: Part II

02/25/2015, 11:00pm MST
By USA Hockey Officiating Program

A follow-up to Ian Walsh's NHL career-path article (see Stripes - February 2015)

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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