Sean Kelley was a Midget club player in high school, hoping to eventually find a chance to play hockey on a higher level. He did not have to look far.
When his hometown Gillette Wild program added a junior team to play in the American West Hockey League during his senior year in high school, Kelley saw an opportunity. Two years later, Kelley is one of the AWHL’s top goalies while trying to help the Wild move up through the league’s ranks.
“Growing up, I always wanted to go to a higher level and push myself,” Kelley said. “With the junior team coming in, it was a dream come true. I was able to stay home and still play at a higher level.”
First, Kelley had to make it on to the team.
“I tried out for the team the first year and I didn’t make it,” he said. “I was just like, ‘Wow.’ The speed was so much faster, the guys were so much bigger. I was pretty much in awe the whole time.”
Kelley acknowledges that he essentially idolized the players on the first Wild junior team. He went to as many of their home games as he could. Kelley also became friends with many of the players, who encouraged him to keep working on his game to keep pursuing his goal.
“I made really good friends,” he said. “I got taken under their wings. They told me what to expect.”
Much has changed in the past two years.
Kelley made the team in 2012-13. He started out as the third goalie but thrived in his playing opportunities while clearly proving he belonged in the AWHL. Kelley went 11-2 with a 2.70 goals-against average and .922 save percentage.
“He had two veterans ahead of him last year, but by the end of the season we had some tough decisions,” Wild coach and general manager Tom Winkler said.
This season, Kelley is not just the AWHL’s busiest goalie but he is also one of its best.
Injuries forced Kelley’s role to change from being in pursuit of No. 1 goalie status to taking on almost all of the playing time for nearly three months.
Following Sunday’s 6-0 win over the Billings Bulls in which he posted his second 41-save shutout in less than three weeks, Kelley leads the AWHL in games, minutes played and shutouts (six), while ranking second in save percentage (.933), tied for third in wins (14) and fourth in GAA (2.33).
“He’s pretty technical,” Winkler said. “He definitely comes out and challenges shooters, and he’s confident in his abilities.
“I think the biggest thing he’s done in the past few weeks is that his rebound control has been really solid. He limits the rebounds in front and takes away the second and third opportunities.”
Winkler also praised how well Kelley gets from post to post. Kelley, who is taking classes at Gillette Community College, is hoping his play will open up a new chance to play at another level, as an NCAA Division III goalie.
Kelley’s progress can perhaps be measured by the fact that he is now working on subtle adjustments in his game rather than simply trying to prove he can compete at this level. He was able to describe in great detail the process of working on improving the use of his hands, including catching pucks more cleanly with his glove and altering the usual position of his glove and blocker by inches.
“I guess that shows how far I’ve come,” he said, “but I’m still where I have things to work on.”
Kelley’s game has come a long way, but one of the best parts for him is that he did not have to go far to make that happen.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.
Long days, great games and high intensity – it’s tournament time. Gary Cutler is the USA Hockey supervisor of officials in Western New York. He’s officiated countless tournaments at both the local and national levels. Cutler sat down with USA Hockey to discuss teamwork, tournament-time preparation and what officials can do to be selected as postseason officials next season.
USA Hockey: What does your current position entail? What are some key responsibilities?
Gary Cutler: My current volunteer position as supervisor of officials entails many different responsibilities throughout the season. It all starts immediately after national tournament week, with organizing local seminars in the fall, participating in summer camps, and solving any registration issues an official might have. We are also identifying those officials that potentially can work in postseason tournaments, the Junior Officiating Development Program or a USA Hockey summer camp. We also communicate with leagues about rule changes or rule interpretations and solve any issues that arise during the year with officials.
USA Hockey: What do you like most?
Gary Cutler: The most enjoyable part of my position is seeing officials improve their officiating skills from their very first seminar they attended up to the level they are presently officiating at, whether it is getting a postseason assignment, working in the Junior Officiating Development Program, college assignments, international assignments, or even working in professional leagues.
USA Hockey: Tournament time. What is your initial reaction when you hear those two words?
Gary Cutler: Long days. Most postseason tournaments consist of 12- to 14-hour days of being at the rink observing officials and making sure the officiating side of the tournament runs as smooth as possible.
USA Hockey: What are some unexpected duties or responsibilities that come with tournaments that officials might overlook or forget?
Gary Cutler: Throughout the entire tournament, the officiating program is a team more than ever. Every official should be helping their teammates so everyone can do the best job they are capable of. A lot of officials have more than one rulebook in their referee bag. An official should have complete knowledge and understanding of the rulebook that they are using, whether it is a regular-season game or a postseason assignment.
USA Hockey: Do officials tend to feel more pressure during tournaments, especially semifinal or championship games? How should they cope with that and stay focused on the task at hand?
Gary Cutler: Most definitely a semifinal or championship game brings a lot more pressure on the officials that have been selected to work these games. The officials that do these types of games generally have these attributes that give them the opportunity to succeed?
USA Hockey: Can you feel the intensity ramp up during tournaments, from the players, coaches, parents, etc.?
Gary Cutler: When tournament time comes around, everyone’s intensity level is increased. As each day of the tournament passes, the intensity level grows until the conclusion of the championship game.
USA Hockey: What can young officials do to position themselves for consideration as officials for next year’s tournaments?
Gary Cutler: It all starts in the summer. Start a physical fitness program over the summer, so when the season comes around, you are in the best physical shape you can be in. Go to summer development camps. When you attend a seminar, come with a positive learning attitude. Officials have the opportunity to be identified as potential candidates for tournaments at these seminars. During the regular season, work hard at every game, for the entire game. Constantly look into the rulebook/casebook so you have a complete understanding of the rules. Improve your officiating skills every game. This can be done by reading your manuals and reviewing the videos on USA Hockey’s website. If you are evaluated, listen, take notes and implement what the evaluator discussed with you when you are officiating games. The moment you enter the arena, put yourself in the proper position to make the proper call.