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Veteran captains lead Dells Ducks to Minnesota Division title

02/27/2014, 5:45pm MST
By Tom Robinson - Special to USAHockey.com

With 10 players returning to the Dells Ducks this season, coach Bill Zaniboni had no doubt who he wanted leading his Minnesota Junior Hockey League team: defenseman Jacob Stima.

“We talked to Jacob over the summer and named him captain in our first training camp in July,” Zaniboni said.

The Ducks have gotten the results Zaniboni was seeking.

With Stima leading the way — he is tied for third in the division in scoring despite playing defense — Dells has clinched the Minnesota League Minnesota Division title.

Stima has piled up 22 goals — seven on the power play and five game-winners — while adding 38 assists in 38 games. He left the team long enough to play two Tier II junior games with the North American Hockey League’s Janesville Jets in September, but moved right back into his leadership role upon his return.

“He’s had no remorse for coming back and leading this team,” Zaniboni said. “He’s a special teams guy.

“He’s a game-changer.”

Stima would like to help the Ducks change their postseason results.

“We have 10 guys back from last year when we were a goal away from going to nationals,” said the 20-year-old from Roscoe, Ill. who also served as a captain in his youth and high school days. “We still have that bitter taste in our mouths. We all know what it feels like and don’t want it to happen again.

“We want to make nationals and represent ourselves well at nationals.”

Stima is helping the Ducks surge toward the finish with seven goals and 14 assists in an 11-game winning streak. That includes three goals and four assists in a 9-3 win over the Rochester Ice Hawks on Feb. 8.

After clinching the division title with Friday’s 6-2 victory over the Hudson Crusaders, the Ducks proved they were not ready to slow down when Stima had three assists in Saturday’s 6-0 win over the Crusaders.

“I think the biggest thing for our success this year is our veteran leadership from our four captains,” Zaniboni said. “They’re all veterans from last year. They’ve been to the finals and they had it taken away from them.

“It fuels the belly a little bit and, for most of these guys, this is their last year.”

Layne Martin, Joey Bower and Collin Cross serve as the alternate captains.

Martin, 20, from Findlay, Ohio, leads the division in assists (45) and points (64). He played seven games with the Soo Eagles during the first half of the 2012-13 NAHL season.

“He came down with one of the most humble attitudes you find out of a Tier II guy coming to Tier III,” said Zaniboni, who praised Martin for being an outstanding student who works long hours at night to pay for his junior hockey and try to open up a college opportunity.

Bower, a 20-year-old from Crystal Lake, Ill., has committed to St. Mary’s University in Minnesota. He has shown big improvement in consistency from last year, producing 20 goals and 28 assists in 43 games.

While Zaniboni discussed his team, which is 36-5-0-2 with a league-low 101 goals allowed, Bower was on the ice helping coach youth hockey players.

Cross is the youngest of the captains. The 19-year-old from Simsbury, Conn. has committed to play Division III hockey at Framingham State in Massachusetts. He has seven points in 33 games.

“He’s one of the most intense individuals I’ve ever met,” Zaniboni said. “He’s a workhorse on and off the ice.”

Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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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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