SOCHI, Russia - Everything off the ice, from time zone to jersey crest, has changed for the 2014 U.S. Women's Olympic Team, but head coach Katey Stone has delivered a message to her team in practice this week: Nothing has changed on the ice.
Looking to ride a wave of pre-Olympic exhibition game victories, Team USA's head coach kept her team's collective foot on the gas pedal in the second to last team practice before Saturday's opening game against Finland.
"The last three sessions have been really good," Stone said. "The kids are getting plenty of rest and are excited. They're ready to get this thing going."
The high-tempo practice has become the norm for the U.S. players and Lyndsey Fry said the team doesn't see any reason to change the plan now that they are in Sochi.
"It's what we've been doing for the last couple months," she said. "We're going to stay consistent with how we've been practicing. (Small area games) are great and it's what we're going to keep doing."
Stone utilized two cross-ice games in Thursday's practice, continuing a trend that she says she started in the fall as a way to spark her team.
"We went to condensing what we were doing," she said. "It's made a huge difference in our communication. You have to talk, you just have to. It's allowed our kids to use each other and rely on each other."
Russia President Vladimir Putin toured the Olympic facilities here this week and twice encountered U.S. women's players and staff.
Captain Meghan Duggan met Putin in the athlete village recreation center and said the quick meet and greet was memorable.
"He shook our hands and said ‘Nice to meet you,'" she said. "It kind of caught us off guard. It was one of those right place, right time kind of things."
Duggan said Putin asked athletes in the area in what sport they were competing and from what country the came.
"He walked in with his entourage and a bunch of media people. We got to shake his hand. It’s not every day that you get to meet the president of any country, so we were lucky to be there," she said.
USAHockey.com will produce a series of webisodes during the Olympics that will feature post-game analysis, Q&As and other video features from around Sochi.
The first episode is live and embedded below. Check back often for new episodes and tweet to the show with your feedback and questions using #USAHPostgame.
Harry Thompson is running a blog from Sochi and he kicked things off with an update on the travels from Colorado to Russia. Check back often for exclusive updates and coverage
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.