Jake Randolph was part of a dream line combination in the last two years of his high school career at Minnesota powerhouse Duluth East.
In his second season with the Omaha Lancers in the United States Hockey League, Randolph has found an ideal combination again. And, he is making it pay off.
Randolph is leading the USHL in scoring and his two linemates, Tyler Vesel and Gage Hough, rank second and fourth.
“The reason they’re having so much success is they mesh together so well,” Lancers coach and general manager Brian Kaufman said.
Randolph leads the league in assists (43) and points (60) in 39 games. Vesel leads in goals (28) and plus-minus (plus-33) while ranking second in points with 56. Hough has 16 goals and 26 assists to rank fourth in points (42) and is tied for third in the league with Vesel with eight power-play goals. That combined output has helped Omaha to the league’s second-best record at 27-8-4.
“It’s just the chemistry we have,” Randolph said. “We’re all offensive players. We kind of bring different little parts to the line that help us get success.”
There are also similarities.
“They all think the game at a high level,” Kaufman said. “None of them necessarily skate very fast, but they all think the game on a different level than everyone else.”
However, all three play different games. Vesel is the goal scorer from his center position. Randolph is the playmaker on the left wing and Hough, a sturdy, 5-foot-11, 187-pound right wing, wins the battles in front of the net.
“Gage plays in front of the net and creates extra space for them,” Kaufman said.
Hough, 20, is in his third USHL season and his second with his hometown team. Randolph and Vesel, both 19-year-olds from Minnesota, are just beginning to spend a lengthy stretch in Omaha. They each committed to the University of Nebraska Omaha and, coincidentally, wound up being selected by Omaha in the USHL Draft. The potential is there for Randolph and Vesel to play together for years.
Randolph knows the value of a familiar linemate. While playing for his father, Mike Randolph, at Duluth East, Jake was linemates with Trevor Olson and Dominic Toninato as a junior and senior. They led Duluth East to the state championship game and a heartbreaking, triple-overtime loss to Eden Prairie as juniors. As seniors they made their third straight trip to the state quarterfinals when the St. Paul Pioneer Press selected Randolph as its state high school player of the year.
All three were drafted into the USHL out of Duluth East. Olson began with the Green Bay Gamblers and is still in the top-level U.S. junior league with the Sioux City Musketeers. However, the team captain and University of North Dakota recruit might be lost for the year after undergoing hip surgery. Toninato was among the USHL scoring leaders last season with the Fargo Force and is now a freshman at the University of Minnesota Duluth.
Randolph is making the most of the opportunities opened up by his high school career and the longtime dedication to the sport under the guidance of his father, who has won more than 500 games and two state titles as a high school coach. In a 2012 story, Mike Randolph told the Pioneer Press that rides home from the rink talking hockey with Tyler are something that he will treasure forever.
Those talks helped Tyler arrive in Omaha with a deep understanding of the game. That understanding includes the knowledge that he must constantly work on the physical aspects of hockey to get the most out of his ability.
“I think his foot speed and overall strength have improved,” Kaufman said. “Bigger, faster, stronger is what every hockey player wants to be.
“He’s improved in terms of moving his feet. He’s still a pass-first player. There’s no question he sees the game on a different level than most people.”
That vision led to more than 100 assists at Duluth East. But Randolph said he knows he cannot spend much time thinking about his current statistics and what they mean.
“I don’t want to look too deep into the stats,” he said. “I’m always concentrating on working on my game first and my skating.
“I’m getting faster and I’m getting strong. The last two years, I’ve been winning a lot more battles down low. I think that’s the biggest thing for me.”
That has helped, along with a coach’s son’s feel for knowing how to make the most of the chance to work with skilled teammates.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.
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.