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New philosophy helps Florida Junior Blades get even better

02/21/2014, 5:00am MST
By Tom Robinson - Special to USAHockey.com

The leadership of the Florida Junior Blades had a vision for a key change, even after what would generally be considered an incredibly successful start for the franchise.

In its first three years, Florida won three regular-season championships and made it to nationals twice. But the Junior Blades felt the disappointment of a semifinal elimination from the Empire League playoffs last year and tried to come up with a plan on how to avoid having that happening again.

“Last season, we had a very strong team, but we were front-heavy,” said Junior Blades general manager Tad O’Had, who was the coach last season. “As we got deep into the playoffs, we had a few players who worked very hard. They logged a lot of minutes and scored a large majority of our points.

“We had a double-overtime loss to the Boston Junior Bruins in the playoffs, and one of the reasons was we were relying so heavily on a small group of guys to contribute offensively.”

When O’Had moved up to become assistant coach with the professional Florida Everblades, Todd Pococke moved up from assistant coach to head coach of the Junior Blades and Tyler Carlston came on as assistant coach. Together, they formulated a plan to create a team that was harder to defend and less susceptible to wearing out key players.

“That was one of the things Todd and Tyler discussed early in the year in training camp,” O’Had said. “In the past, the guys that we had on the power play maybe would also be on the PK and play a regular shift.

“We had regular-season success, but maybe people burned out a little bit. One of the things we looked at was let’s have our power-play guys and let’s have our PK and let’s work on really sharing some of those minutes throughout.”

Pococke stayed committed to that ideal and the players have produced to make it work remarkably well.

The Junior Blades set a series of franchise records, including a late 21-game winning streak and finished up the first season of the Empire Division of the United States Premier Hockey League as the Western Conference champion. Their 37-1-0-2 record was the best among the 24 Empire teams and their 61 goals allowed, with the help of workhouse and division statistical leader among goalies Eric Sugrue, was by far the best.

“Eric has been with us the last few years and he has continued to blossom,” O’Had said of the 21-year-old from nearby Naples, Fla.

Florida also built the Empire’s third-highest scoring team, despite not having any of its top 26 individual scorers.

“We have four lines contributing,” O’Had said. “You always have a strategy or plan, but it doesn’t always come to life. The players have done a great job of all carrying the load at different times.”

The Junior Blades had four players within two points of each other at the top of the team scoring list. Chaise Howard led the way with 18 goals and 24 assists in 39 games. Trevor Mullaly added 41 points. Austin Hefferin, who had a team-high 20 goals, and Shane Visnick, who tied Howard for the assist lead among forwards, each added 40 points. Defenseman Jacob Leonard had a team-high 27 assists while also contributing four goals.

Howard is a hometown player from Estero, while Mullaly, Visnick and Leonard are also from Florida. Hefferin came to the program from Maryland.

While no one on the team was relied on for more than 42 points, the Blades got at least 30 points from six players, at least 21 points from 11 players and at least 14 points from 17 players.

“We don’t take anything for granted,” Pococke said in a story on the league website after the Junior Blades produced a pair of shutouts in the final weekend of the regular season. “We prepare for every game with intensity and a desire to win. The players know what it takes.”

That attitude and the team’s make-up has O’Had looking forward to the postseason, which begins with the USPHL Empire playoffs in Wayne, N.J.

“The whole focus is that, hopefully, come the playoffs and nationals, we’re able to be cruising on all cylinders to go as far as we can,” he said.

O’Had said Pococke and Carlston have stayed true to the team’s preseason vision.

“To Todd and Tyler’s credit, they’re doing a phenomenal job balancing out the responsibilities, and it looks like we’ll continue to have legs into playoffs and hopefully into nationals,” O’Had said.

Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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Three ways to beat burnout

11/28/2016, 9:45pm MST
By Dave Pond

According to NHL metrics, the average hockey shift lasts somewhere between 45 and 55 seconds. There’s inherent beauty and fluidity to line changes, as skaters come on and off the ice, looking to recharge after going full throttle for their teams.

Meanwhile, your NHL officiating peers are giving their all, too – regularly logging 4-5 miles a game. Those totals are even greater at your level, where you and your colleagues officiate multiple games a day, several times per week, on a seemingly never-ending calendar.

And, although we want to perform our best every game, everyone has both good days and bad – players and officials alike. To learn more about keeping burnout at bay, we went to the experts: longtime amateur hockey scheduler Larry Carrington and former NHL official Mark Faucette.

“There is so much more to officiating than meets the eye,” said Faucette, a 17-year NHL veteran. “It may look easy from the stands, but to maintain total control of a game along with the stress, slumps, supervisors, travel, and fitness regimen takes a very special kind of person.”

Get in shape (and stay there)
We all think we’re in “pretty good” shape, but the reality is, officials must be top athletes and in great condition – even at the youngest levels.

“Conditioning is very important—the deeper into the season, the more important it is,” Carrington said. “Burnout happens physically, mentally, and emotionally. An official who is in good condition will experience less physical burnout, and that will in turn help with the emotional and mental burnout.”

Faucette stresses following a workout routine that maxes yourself at least every other day. Neither player or official should plan to use games as a vehicle toward better physical fitness.

“Where we used to go to camp to get into shape, officials today are on summer conditioning regimens and are tested as soon as they come to camp,” he said. “Taking care of your body is a total focus for the good official.

“The players are so much stronger and faster now, so it’s imperative the officials keep the same pace.”

Find balance
No, not balance on your skates (that’s a given). Rather, make sure to keep the big picture in mind, to work a manageable schedule that includes everything that’s important to you – family, friends, and time away from the rink.

Although it makes Carrington’s job as an assignor more difficult, he said it pays off in the long run.

“I encourage officials to take at least one weekend off to get away from hockey,” he said. “I certainly don't want to lose their services for a week, but the invigoration that it usually provides makes them a much more valuable asset over the course of the season.”

That’s huge in an industry where both mental and physical fatigue are commonplace.

“Every official runs into slumps, just as players do,” Faucette said. “You spend numerous hours alone as an official, and when things are not going good, where everything is negative, it can cause you duress.

“Positive thoughts and self-evaluations speed up recovery,” he continued. “So, instead of telling yourself, ‘I wonder what bad thing will happen tonight?’ say ‘I’m ready for anything – bring it on!’”

Have fun
It’s No. 3 here, but should be No. 1 on your to-do list.

“I realize the officials are all trying hard, and mistakes are part of any sport by any participant,” said Faucette, who currently serves as supervisor of officials for USA Hockey, the NAHL director of player safety and the SPHL director of officiating. “That being said, the joy I get out of seeing a young official start out at ground level and making the big time one day is immeasurable.”

For most of you reading this, the “big time” might not be the end goal (and that’s OK). But wherever you are, there’s experience you’ve gained, as well as that to come – which both point back to why you first got involved in this great sport.

As an assignor, Carrington tries to get out of the office as much as he can and intentionally varies the schedules of his officials to help keep things fresh. He also encourages his more senior officials to lend a hand to those who aren’t as long in the tooth.

“Going to the rink and helping officials help themselves get better can be very invigorating,” he said. “Even a very good, very experienced official will often find it fun and relaxing to mentor some new official at a lower-level game where the stress levels aren’t nearly as high.”

But no matter where you officiate, Carrington emphasizes keeping one thing in mind: the love of the sport and those playing it today.

“If you’re not having fun, you shouldn’t be out there.”

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