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RiverHawks Developing a Reputation in Central Minnesota

03/21/2014, 12:15pm MDT
By Tom Robinson - Special to USAHockey.com

The North Wright County RiverHawks girls’ hockey program has grown right along with the communities it serves.

In addition to one 14-and-Under travel team, two 12U and two 10U teams already in place for girls, North Wright County has a group of 8U girls playing together for the entire season for the first time.

North Wright County, in central Minnesota about 50 miles northwest of the Twin Cities, is a co-op of two associations, the St. Michael-Albertville Youth Hockey Association and the MAML, which serves Monticello, Annandale and Maple Lake.

The 8U team, called an initiation team, hosted one jamboree and went to another this season. In the past, the available girls in that age range were pulled together once or twice a season for jamborees. This year, they formed a team throughout the season and played against boys’ teams within the house league.

“The numbers for girls at the youth ages have been progressively getting better and better,” North Wright County girls’ director Nate Allen said.

Allen said there are 34 girls currently at the 12U level, and he expects that number to exceed 40 next year.

North Wright County has been able to encourage growth, because it has always been able to manage it with a plentiful group of available volunteer coaches and organizers.

“We really have been fortunate with some of the people who have been in the program for a number of years,” Allen said. “We have a few strong families here who really have put a lot of time and energy into growing a strong girls’ program. There’s just a passion for it.

“And we really have been lucky to get great parent/coaches on the girls’ side. I think sometimes there is a reluctance from parents on the girls’ side to get involved coaching, but we have not ever been short of phenomenally talented dads — and I should say moms, too — who contribute a lot of time and energy. That has continued every year.”

Among those Allen said were heavily involved in the program’s early years were Doug Foster, Todd and Diane Achterkirch, Kurt Sjelin and Steve Hinkemeyer.

St. Michael-Albertville and MAML began working together on girls’ hockey in 1998. They formed the East Wright County Lightning girls’ teams in 2001 and changed the name to North Wright County RiverHawks in 2004 to mirror the co-op on the high school level between St. Michael-Albertville and Monticello.

Allen said the number of people willing to go through coaching certification as volunteers has allowed the association to have a quality program without its players having to seek opportunities with teams that feature additional costs for paid coaches.

The progress is shown by the number of participants, the success in competition across multiple age levels and the growing reputation around the state for North Wright County girls’ hockey.

The RiverHawks won the 14U state title in 2011 with a group of girls that has since reached the state high school playoffs together in two of the past three seasons.

“That has given the younger generation of kids the opportunity to go to high school games, follow those kids and get excited about the culture of girls’ hockey,” Allen said. “We have been fortunate to have younger sisters who are involved, but we have some other links to the high school program.

“We try to bridge the gap between the youth program and high school.”

The younger girls are following the example of the successful graduates of the program who are now playing high school hockey.

North Wright County has enjoyed tournament wins since on the 10U level and those girls have progressed to 12U, where both RiverHawks teams had tournament championships this season.

With more youngsters on the way, that success should continue and the excitement it generates can only help bring in more players.

The youth hockey players participate in a Skate-with-the-Hawks Night in which the high school girls lead them through drills. North Wright County also participates in a program throughout all of Minnesota District 5 in which girls in the programs invite a friend to join them for a hockey jamboree to expose the game to more potential players.

“There are a lot of people, when they look at North Wright County, who are starting to identify us as a place where girls’ hockey is really growing,” Allen said.

Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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Three ways to beat burnout

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By Dave Pond

According to NHL metrics, the average hockey shift lasts somewhere between 45 and 55 seconds. There’s inherent beauty and fluidity to line changes, as skaters come on and off the ice, looking to recharge after going full throttle for their teams.

Meanwhile, your NHL officiating peers are giving their all, too – regularly logging 4-5 miles a game. Those totals are even greater at your level, where you and your colleagues officiate multiple games a day, several times per week, on a seemingly never-ending calendar.

And, although we want to perform our best every game, everyone has both good days and bad – players and officials alike. To learn more about keeping burnout at bay, we went to the experts: longtime amateur hockey scheduler Larry Carrington and former NHL official Mark Faucette.

“There is so much more to officiating than meets the eye,” said Faucette, a 17-year NHL veteran. “It may look easy from the stands, but to maintain total control of a game along with the stress, slumps, supervisors, travel, and fitness regimen takes a very special kind of person.”

Get in shape (and stay there)
We all think we’re in “pretty good” shape, but the reality is, officials must be top athletes and in great condition – even at the youngest levels.

“Conditioning is very important—the deeper into the season, the more important it is,” Carrington said. “Burnout happens physically, mentally, and emotionally. An official who is in good condition will experience less physical burnout, and that will in turn help with the emotional and mental burnout.”

Faucette stresses following a workout routine that maxes yourself at least every other day. Neither player or official should plan to use games as a vehicle toward better physical fitness.

“Where we used to go to camp to get into shape, officials today are on summer conditioning regimens and are tested as soon as they come to camp,” he said. “Taking care of your body is a total focus for the good official.

“The players are so much stronger and faster now, so it’s imperative the officials keep the same pace.”

Find balance
No, not balance on your skates (that’s a given). Rather, make sure to keep the big picture in mind, to work a manageable schedule that includes everything that’s important to you – family, friends, and time away from the rink.

Although it makes Carrington’s job as an assignor more difficult, he said it pays off in the long run.

“I encourage officials to take at least one weekend off to get away from hockey,” he said. “I certainly don't want to lose their services for a week, but the invigoration that it usually provides makes them a much more valuable asset over the course of the season.”

That’s huge in an industry where both mental and physical fatigue are commonplace.

“Every official runs into slumps, just as players do,” Faucette said. “You spend numerous hours alone as an official, and when things are not going good, where everything is negative, it can cause you duress.

“Positive thoughts and self-evaluations speed up recovery,” he continued. “So, instead of telling yourself, ‘I wonder what bad thing will happen tonight?’ say ‘I’m ready for anything – bring it on!’”

Have fun
It’s No. 3 here, but should be No. 1 on your to-do list.

“I realize the officials are all trying hard, and mistakes are part of any sport by any participant,” said Faucette, who currently serves as supervisor of officials for USA Hockey, the NAHL director of player safety and the SPHL director of officiating. “That being said, the joy I get out of seeing a young official start out at ground level and making the big time one day is immeasurable.”

For most of you reading this, the “big time” might not be the end goal (and that’s OK). But wherever you are, there’s experience you’ve gained, as well as that to come – which both point back to why you first got involved in this great sport.

As an assignor, Carrington tries to get out of the office as much as he can and intentionally varies the schedules of his officials to help keep things fresh. He also encourages his more senior officials to lend a hand to those who aren’t as long in the tooth.

“Going to the rink and helping officials help themselves get better can be very invigorating,” he said. “Even a very good, very experienced official will often find it fun and relaxing to mentor some new official at a lower-level game where the stress levels aren’t nearly as high.”

But no matter where you officiate, Carrington emphasizes keeping one thing in mind: the love of the sport and those playing it today.

“If you’re not having fun, you shouldn’t be out there.”

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