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Bronze or Bust for Determined U.S. Squad

02/21/2014, 6:00pm MST
By Harry Thompson - Editor, USA Hockey Magazine

SOCHI, Russia – There’s an old expression in Olympic hockey that you don’t win silver; you lose gold. But what about a bronze medal?

The U.S. Men’s Team is determined not to leave here empty handed and has vowed to bring home the hardware, no matter what precious metal it may consist of.

After losing a tough game to Canada, 1-0, on Friday night, the U.S. has little time to regroup before taking on a very talented and defensively sound Finland team on Saturday. Finland lost early in the day to Sweden, 2-1, on the front end of what some called Rivalry Friday.

The U.S. was hoping to get a bit of payback after losing to the Canadians in the gold-medal game in Vancouver four years ago.

While the sting of coming so close may still linger when the puck drops, the U.S. knows they have no choice but to lick their wounds, mental and physical, and be ready when the puck drops at 7 p.m., local time at the Bolshoy Ice Dome.

“We don’t have a choice. There’s one more time to wear the red, white and blue for our country and hopefully bring home some hardware and do it proud,” said David Backes, who like so many members of this team, draws his inspiration from the U.S. servicemen and women who have wished him luck before the start of the tournament.

“It’s really a sick feeling that we didn’t get the job done tonight but we have one more chance tomorrow to make the trip worth it.”

Winning a bronze here in Sochi would give the U.S. back to back medals for the first time since winning silver in Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy in 1956 and gold four years later in Squaw Valley, Calif.

Getting his squad ready to rebound may be head coach Dan Bylsma’s biggest challenge since the team came together just 11 days ago.

“We certainly all feel disappointment in this game, but that’s got to be put behind us very quick. We still have much to play for and we will deal with that tomorrow,” said Bylsma, who is coaching in his first international tournament.

“We still have a lot to play for and not going home with anything is not an option. But we’re going home with a bronze medal.”

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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.

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