SOCHI, Russia -- Poised to compete in their third Paralympic Winter Games together, Steve Cash, Taylor Chace, Taylor Lipsett and Andy Yohe are already among the most accomplished sled hockey players in the United States. They won the bronze medal in 2006, the gold medal in 2010 and have plans to make Team USA the first back-to-back Paralympic gold medalist in 2014.
Additionally, three other prominent members of the U.S. sled hockey community are contributing to the 2014 Paralympic Games in a variety of capacities. Keith Blase, who was head coach of the 2006 U.S. Paralympic Sled Hockey Team, is now the International Paralympic Committee’s Technical Committee Chairman for sled hockey. Lonnie Hannah, a forward on the 2002 and 2006 U.S. Paralympic squads, is in Sochi to serve as Athlete Service Coordinator for U.S. athletes. Lastly, Kip St. Germaine, a member of the 1998, 2002 and 2006 U.S. teams, will be providing color commentary for the NBC Sports Group broadcasts.
Current and former Team USA members alike, they all are incredibly proud of sled hockey’s growth across the United States. Of the 17 players on this year’s Paralympic Team, nine are first-timers who are products of USA Hockey Player Development Camps and/or the U.S. National Developmental Sled Hockey Team.
“When I became coach of the national team after the 2002 Paralympics, we started a developmental program to create a sustainable environment for the sport,” said Blase, who coached the U.S. National Sled Hockey Team through 2006-07. “We ended up using that feeder system quite a bit more than I think we anticipated in the lead up to 2006 because some of our best players were young players, and many of them are still playing today. Now with the IPC, we are encouraging similar programs.”
After retiring from Team USA, Hannah transferred his passion for sled hockey to a teaching role. He helped start the San Antonio Rampage program, which introduces sled hockey to wounded members of the military. The Rampage has three players – Jen Lee, Rico Roman, Josh Sweeney - on the 2014 U.S. Paralympic Team. Hannah relishes the opportunity to support some of his former teammates and current pupils here in Sochi.
“I had some great athlete service coordinators when I played and I wanted to be that guy for these players that I know and care about,” said Hannah, who facilitates daily life in the village. “It’s so fun to watch the young guys that I played with in 2006 transition to become veteran leaders.
“The ‘02 and ‘06 teams, we talk consistently and I feel like we started something and left our legacy. We’re as proud of these guys as we can be. They’ve continued the legacy on extremely well.”
Described by Hannah as “one of the founding fathers of sled hockey in the U.S.,” St. Germaine has an active hand in the American feeder system as associate head coach of the U.S. National Developmental Team. Two of the most recent graduates of that squad include 15-year-old Brody Roybal and 16-year-old Declan Farmer, who are among the next wave of talented Americans.
“We’re starting to see the third generation of players coming into the U.S. National Team Program,” said Lipsett, who started playing sled hockey in 2002 after Team USA’s first Paralympic gold medal. “Guys like Kip, Lonnie and Joe Howard started things in the 90’s. Then you had the second group like me, Steve Cash and Taylor Chace, who were teenagers when we started. Now we have guys like Declan, Brody and Dan McCoy, who have been playing since they were kids. We have so much depth and so many players in the U.S. that we should be good for a long time.”
Team USA has two more practices before Friday’s Paralympic Opening Ceremony and Saturday’s tournament opener against Italy. Watch the game live at 7:30 a.m. ET on TeamUSA.org.
Each January, many of USA Hockey’s stakeholders descend upon sometimes-sunny Florida for USA Hockey’s Winter Meetings. There is discussion among all of the organization’s different groups, including officiating.
USA Hockey National Referee-in-Chief Dave LaBuda recaps this year’s meetings for us.
USA Hockey: Briefly, how did the meeting go?
Dave LaBuda: The district referee-in-chiefs, along with the program leadership, had a focused and determined attitude. We had an aggressive agenda that we successfully completed.
USAH: What did the district RICs talk about during their meetings?
LaBuda: One year ago, the district RICs authorized a subcommittee to review the overall registration process that officials must complete at the beginning of each season. That subcommittee presented its proposals for change and those changes were the primary discussion topics. I'm pleased to tell you that the Officials Section will be making some big changes to the registration requirements that will benefit the membership over time.
The first change I’d like to talk about is that there will be a two-tier fee structure starting with the 2018-19 season. There will be one fee for Level 1 and another fee for all other levels. The fee for Level 1 will be $45 and the fee for all the other levels will be fixed at $90.
USAH: Why a fee increase?
LaBuda: There are a few reasons for this fee increase, which is the first in several years. Primarily, the officiating program needs to be self-funded. The general cost of doing business has risen during that timeframe. When we implemented the online video module program several years ago, it was agreed not to increase fees, even though this program did have a cost factor associated it.
With all the changes and enhancements that will be coming, it was felt that this would be the best time for the increase. Also, we have recognized a trend that some officials were remaining at the lower registration levels. By making the registration fee for Levels 2, 3 and 4 the same, we hope to encourage and motivate those officials to improve their officiating skills by registering at higher levels when they become eligible. At the same time, some of the other changes that are being made will hopefully encourage them to do the same thing.
USAH: What are some of those other changes that are coming for officials?
LaBuda: A few of the changes that the membership can look forward to will be all open-book exams will be level-specific with only 50 questions on each test. Returning Level 3 and 4 officials will have the option to test out of elective online modules.
The last thing I'd like to mention is that Level 3 and 4 officials who meet certain specific criteria will be able to attain ‘tenured’ status. This registration status will have a reduced amount of annual requirements, like not having to attend a seminar, as well as not having to take a close-book exam.
USAH: How would you summarize the Officials Section meetings?
LaBuda: The district RICs, along with the Officials Section leadership, have taken some bold steps to improve the overall officiating program. The changes that were approved and will be implemented over time represent the most significant changes to the officiating program since the late 1980s when we introduced the Level 4 program. Over the next few months, we will be releasing more detailed information about all of the changes that our membership can look forward to.
USA Hockey is proud to introduce the seven – yes, SEVEN – officials representing the United States at the 2018 Olympic Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, beginning Feb. 11 (women’s hockey) and Feb. 14 (men’s hockey).
This year USA Hockey had more officials selected than any other country.
So, without further ado, meet our 2018 Olympic officials:
Hometown: North Tonawanda, New York
Length of officiating career: 11 seasons
Where did you get your start? As I take the time to reflect, the journey began when I started playing hockey at the age of 4. Learning the basic skills of the game grew into a greater love for the game, which led to ultimately pursuing college hockey. After I graduated university and returned to my hometown, it was at the rink I grew up skating, Hockey Outlet, where I first wore the stripes, officiating an 8U cross-ice game. All of my years playing and studying the game gave me the foundation to find success in officiating.
When did you find out you were assigned to the Games? What was your reaction in that moment? I found out via a phone call from Matt Leaf on Tuesday, Nov. 28. I was extremely excited and truly grateful for the opportunity. I immediately called my husband to share the moment with him, as he has been very supportive during this journey (he’s also a hockey official who understands the significance).
Did you ever imagine your officiating career taking you to places like this? No, I never imagined officiating could take me to the Olympics. I actually started officiating for extra money in law school. I quickly found, however, that it filled a void I knew I was going to have after college hockey was over. It afforded me the opportunity to stay involved with hockey at a high level.
Favorite Olympic moment? The 1998 Olympic Winter Games will always be one of my favorites because it was the first year women’s hockey was an Olympic sport.
USA Hockey is sending the most officials to the Games this year; what does the officiating program do so right that more and more Americans are being selected for these big-time events? The USA Hockey officiating program provides many opportunities to develop its officials on a national level, including seminars, camps and high-level competition with high-quality evaluators/instructors. The program also has a long history of going above and beyond to promote and develop its female officials.
Any advice? Focus on the elements you can control, including rule knowledge, skating, fitness and communication. Work hard and dream big!
Hometown: Westfield, Massachusetts
Length of officiating career: 10 seasons
Where did you get your start? I played in a women's league following college and started my officiating career in that women's league.
When did you find out you were assigned to the Games? What was your reaction in that moment? On Nov 28. We were told it would be around Dec. 1, so I was anxiously awaiting the email, and was ecstatic when it came a few days earlier than expected. I first received a voicemail from Matt Leaf and couldn't dial his number fast enough to hear the "good news" he had to share. This has been a dream since my first IIHF tournament back in 2011, so I was euphoric.
Did you ever imagine your officiating career taking you to places like this? Officiating has taken me to numerous states and countries, and I certainly never imagined I would have the opportunity to travel around the globe and meet so many incredible people through the game I love. When I learned about the possibilities for officials, I was eager to become IIHF-certified and participate in a tournament overseas. Following my first IIHF World Championship in Caen, France, I was eager for another IIHF opportunity and set my ultimate goal on the Olympics.
How is officiating on the Olympic stage different from other international competitions (or is it?) I can't wait to see! I've been to a handful of IIHF World Championships and am excited to experience the highest level of hockey on the world's biggest stage.
Favorite Olympic moment? Watching the U.S. women win gold in '98. At that time, I was playing hockey on a boys team, so it was amazing to see women playing hockey on TV.
USA Hockey is sending the most officials to the Games this year; what does the officiating program do so right that more and more Americans are being selected for these big-time events? USA Hockey has a solid development program for females and is providing the resources to allow us a variety of opportunities to learn and grow.
Any advice? Make the most out of every game and each opportunity. It can be a long ride, but along the way you’ll meet incredible people, have amazing experiences. There will be some disappointments, but control what you can control, put in the hard work outside of the rink, and have fun.
Hometown: Augusta, Maine (lives in Saco, Maine)
Officiating career length: 19 seasons
Where did you get your start? I started officiating in Augusta, doing youth games with my dad.
When did you find out you were assigned to the Games? What was your reaction in that moment? I got a call from Matt Leaf on Nov. 28. Absolute shock. It's hard to put into words the exact feelings of finding out.
Did you ever imagine your officiating career taking you to places like this? No. I've always wanted to officiate the highest level I could do. Each year has given me the chance to get closer to the going to the Olympics, but even now it seems surreal.
How is officiating on the Olympic stage different from other international competitions (or is it?) I'm not certain it's different except that everyone is familiar with the Olympics and this is the absolute top of the mountain when it comes to women's hockey. When it comes to international competitions, only those people associated with hockey understand what it is. The Olympics on the other hand represent the best in the world to everyone.
Favorite Olympic moment? The 1980 Miracle On Ice. I wasn't alive then, but having watched the movies and skated in Lake Placid many times, it sticks out as my favorite. It really epitomizes the emotions, dedication and excitement associated with the Olympics and why we play sports. The winner is never pre-determined and you just never know who will come out on top.
USA Hockey is sending the most officials to the Games this year; what does the officiating program do so right that more and more Americans are being selected for these big-time events? The USA Hockey Officiating Program has an incredible development program that gives officials, both men and women, opportunities to learn and develop. Women receive consistent opportunities to skate national and international tournaments and attend camps. As a whole, the officiating program is giving opportunities to a greater number of officials, and therefore, no one gets complacent. Everyone is continuously striving to get better so that they can continue to get opportunities at these big-time events.
Any advice? Own Your Future. I would give this advice to any official who is striving to continue moving up the officiating ladder, not just those looking to work the Olympics. In 2016, I was fortunate to attend USA Hockey’s ODP full-time camp in Plymouth, Mich., and this was the motto of the program for the year. It has really resonated with me. There are so many things you can't control in officiating, but at the same time, there are certainly things you can - your work ethic, your attitude, your willingness to learn, your dedication to fitness, just to name a few.
Hometown: Okemos, Michigan (lives in Grand Rapids, Mich.)
Length of officiating career: 19 years
Where did you get your start? I started officiating in Lansing, Mich., during high school, for money and extra ice time.
When did you find out you were assigned to the Games? What was your reaction in that moment? I found out about the Olympics when I received a phone call from Matt Leaf the last week of November. I felt just incredible feeling of accomplishment and so blessed with the opportunity to work the Olympics. It’s a dream come true
Did you ever imagine your officiating career taking you to places like this? I never thought officiating would take me all over the world. I’m very lucky USA Hockey and the IIHF have afforded me amazing experiences and journeys.
How is officiating on the Olympic stage going to be different from other international competitions? The Olympics are definitely a larger stage, but it’s still the same job I have to do, and that’s work hard and give it my best.
Favorite Olympic moment? Watching the USA vs. Canada men’s gold-medal hockey games in 2002 and 2010. They were great, exciting, action-packed games that lived up to the billing.
Any advice? Stay involved with USA Hockey and take advantage of every opportunity you can along the way.
Hometown: Buffalo, New York
Length of officiating career: I started officiating when I was 12 years old.
Where did you get your start? I was cut from a local travel hockey team and was pretty disappointed at the time. My parents asked if I wanted to ref hockey to make some extra money. I was hooked and loved being on the ice.
When did you find out you were assigned to the Games? What was your reaction? I had taken a personal day off from work to catch up on some errands and spend time with my family. I was on my way back from a doctor’s appointment when I received a call form Matt Leaf advising that I was selected to work and that the IIHF would be sending out their press release the next day. My initial reaction was disbelief; I couldn’t believe I was actually selected. It didn’t sink in until I saw my name on the list in the press release on who was assigned.
Did you ever imagine your officiating career taking you to places like this? In all honesty, no. When I started reffing, it was a side job to make some extra money. Then it turned into wanting to officiate the best games around Buffalo. It then went to a career taking me around the U.S. working junior hockey and minor pro. While I was working junior hockey, I never thought it would be a possibility to officiate in other countries and make it to this point.
How is officiating on the Olympic stage different from other international competitions (or is it?) The Olympic stage is different and not different, at the same time. It’s the same in the fact that your routine, preparing to skate a game and being mentally and physically prepared, cannot change. You have to be ready to go. It differs because the Olympics are the biggest stage for ice hockey and the entire world is watching. The Olympics only come around every four years and the players are going to give it all they have.
Favorite Olympic moment? My favorite moment would be most recently watching the USA vs. Canada gold-medal men’s game in the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver.
USA hockey is sending the most to the Games this year; what does the officiating program do so right that more and more Americans are being selected for these big-time events? It all starts at the bottom. USA Hockey has a great system for its officials beginning at the grassroots level. They have developed a way that officials at any level are able to learn. Yearly modules and classroom seminars, district seminars, Futures Camp, High Performance Camp and Program of Merit are avenues officials can take to further their education and learning. Through this, USA Hockey has established a constant flow of officials who have taken advantage of these opportunities which has equipped them for potential assignments such as this.
Any advice? The road to advance your career can be long, challenging, and difficult, but keep your head down and keep controlling what you can control. As an official, we can control our appearance, physical fitness, rule knowledge and attitude. These things will assist in helping your career at any level.
Hometown: Belvidere, New Jersey
Length of officiating career: 17 years
Where did you get your start? USA Hockey Level 1 seminar in Bethlehem, Pa., back in 2000. I started my international career sometime around 2011, when I got my international license.
When did you find out you were assigned to the Games? What was your reaction in that moment? I was at work when Matt Leaf called. When I saw it was him calling, I was hoping it wasn't to give me bad news. When he started with “Congratulations,” there was a moment of pure joy, followed by ‘Wow, I can't believe it's actually happening.’
Did you ever imagine your officiating career taking you to places like this? Officiating has taken me beyond anywhere I ever could have imagined. It truly is incredible to have the opportunity to see the world thanks to hockey.
How is officiating on the Olympic stage different from other international competitions? Pretty sure the magnifier is going to be a bit larger for this one. It always amazes me to see the passion people have for their home countries.
Favorite Olympic moment? My most memorable Olympic moment was from 1996 when Muhammad Ali lit the Olympic torch in Atlanta. I was 13 at the time and had been part of the Olympic torch relay when it came through my home state of New Jersey. Hockey-related memory would be watching overtime of the 2010 men's ice hockey gold-medal game.
USA Hockey is sending the most officials to the Games this year; what does the officiating program do so right that more and more Americans are being selected for these big-time events? USA Hockey does a fantastic job of giving its officials a solid foundation in which to grow their officiating careers. What you are seeing is not overnight success but many, many years of dedication to learning the craft of officiating and earning the stripes.
Any advice? Put in the hard work and time it takes to climb the officiating ladder. Enjoy every moment and opportunity officiating provides you because, even without the Olympics, hockey has taken me to places I never could have imagined.
Hometown: Port Huron, Michigan (lives in St. Clair Shores, Mich.)
Length of officiating career: 13 years
Where did you get your start? My husband (boyfriend at the time) had his USA Hockey seminar to go to and invited me along. He thought since I knew how to skate it might be something fun to do together.
When did you find out you were assigned to the Games? What was your reaction in that moment? I found out Nov. 28. I was at work, alone with my puppy, and started crying. I was so relieved and excited.
Did you ever imagine your officiating career taking you to places like this? The second game I ever officiated was with a great official and friend of mine, Krissy Langley. She told me what was possible and has been an inspiration and role model to me ever since.
Favorite Olympic moment? Watching Michelle Kwan at the 1998 Nagano Olympics.
USA Hockey is sending the most officials to the Games this year; what does the officiating program do so right that more and more Americans are being selected for these big-time events? USA Hockey is very supportive of its officials. They have developed wonderful programs to help us thrive. There is no limit to what we can achieve with the support we are given. As long as you take advantage of the opportunities and work hard, the sky's the limit.
Any advice? Use the resources around you. Never be afraid to ask for help and always work hard. Own your future, set goals and work toward them everyday.