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Sean Kelley finds success with hometown Gillette Wild

01/24/2014, 6:15pm MST
By Tom Robinson - Special to

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.

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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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