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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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As we enter the 2015-16 registration season for officials, I want to give an update of what changes to expect this season.

The Officials Section has been busy since the 2015 Winter Meeting, working on implementing the registration changes that were discussed and voted on by the district referees-in-chief, along with refining the testing and online seminar programs.

REGISTRATION INFORMATION
For 2015-16, there will be an informational video available before an official registers with USA Hockey outlining the requirements and commitment that an individual will need to fulfill in order to complete their registration.

REGISTRATION PROCESS

Next, and a very important change, starting with this season, in order to register for a seminar, an official will have to first register as an official (online) with USA Hockey in order to gain access to the online program to register for a seminar.

This change was due to a number of individuals who would never register as an official with USA Hockey and then ‘no show’ to the seminar that they registered for, which frequently led to other registered officials being denied attendance at that seminar because the seating capacity had already been reached.

This change will provide more incentive for every individual who registers as an official -- and registers for a seminar -- to attend that seminar and complete the registration requirements.

EXAM PROCESS
The open-book testing process has also been modified for the coming season. What hasn’t changed is that a Level 1 official will still have to answer the first 50 questions, while Level 2, 3 & 4 officials will have to answer 100 questions. However, the passing score for a Level 2 official has been modified to 80 from 85. All other passing scores remain the same as last year. Those minimum passing scores are 35 for a Level 1 official and 90 for Levels 3 and 4.

While an official is taking the open-book exam, there will be immediate feedback provided after each answer is submitted. If the question was answered incorrectly, the rule reference for that missed question will be given with the appropriate rule book language.

After completing all of the required questions, a summary will be sent of all incorrect responses with their rule references. If a passing score is obtained, then the open-book exam requirement will be complete.

If the result is a failing score, after the seven-day waiting period has passed, the official will only have to retake those questions that were incorrectly answered on their first open-book exam. The retake questions will be based on the same rule reference as the originally missed questions, but will cover a different aspect of the rule.

Once all of the retake questions are answered, the number of correctly answered retake questions will be added to the original test score to hopefully obtain a passing grade. As a reminder, there is no third attempt to pass the open-book exam.

IN-CLASS SEMINARS & ONLINE EDUCATION UPDATES
During the winter meeting, the Officials Section spent considerable time discussing seminar program feedback, and in particular, the online modules. All feedback was taken seriously and an action plan was discussed and adopted.


Two work groups were established to address the new classroom curriculums and to improve the online video modules. Both were comprised of grassroots members who could bring a grassroots perspective to their work. Both groups have completed their work and their recommendations have been adopted. The new shortened classroom curriculums have been distributed for application to this coming seminar season and the online modules are being re-engineered with improved formatting, better sequencing, animation replacing some video clips and reduction of music and voice-overs to allow the viewer to better focus on the presented material.

We’ve also evaluated the number of required modules for each level, and based on the user analytics that the first years’ experience produced, we have reduced the number of required modules in some cases.

Lastly, as a reminder, once an official begins their first online module, they will need to complete all of their online module training within a specified time period. The online module completion time periods are 60 days for Level 1 registered officials and 45 days for Levels 2, 3 and 4. If all of the required and elective modules are not completed within the specified time frame, the official will have to restart all of the module training from the beginning. This requirement was waived during last year’s registration season due to the delayed rollout of the online module program, but it’s back in place this year.

This completion requirement was put in place by the District RICs to encourage all officials to complete their registration as early as possible and to provide continuity in the overall seminar education process.

SUMMARY
As a reminder, to complete an official’s registration an applicant must:

  • Register online with USA Hockey
  • Register and attend a classroom seminar (reduced attendance times depending on registration level)
  • Complete the required and elective online training modules within the required time frame
  • Pass the open-book exam at their registration level
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  • Complete their online USA Hockey SafeSport training at the end of every two-year cycle

 

Work will continue on improving our educational programs, and as always, we will continue actively listening to your constructive feedback. Without your involvement and support as a community, we cannot continue moving forward.  Acknowledging that improvements were needed was only one step in the process.  Implementing those changes in a way that meets the needs of our officiating community is the next step and we’re excited to be taking that step.

Have a great 2015-16 season and as always, skate hard and have fun when you’re on the ice.

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