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Helena Bighorns take final AWHL title; NA3HL awaits in 2015

03/27/2014, 6:00pm MDT
By Tom Robinson - Special to

The Helena Bighorns will try to extend their championship streak to eight straight seasons — and a third league — in the 2014-15 season.

The Bighorns completed a three-game sweep of the American West Hockey League’s championship series Friday night. The win came just hours after it was announced that the league’s seven teams would join the North American 3 Hockey League next season.

Helena won all three titles since the AWHL resumed play in the 2011-12 season. The Bighorns also won Cascade Cup championships in the previous four seasons as members of the Northern Pacific Hockey League.

The Bighorns ended the season on a 137:32 unscored-upon streak that culminated in a title-clinching 4-0 victory over the Great Falls Americans.

Helena is headed back to the Toyota-USA Hockey Tier III Junior National Championships, where it won the title in 2011 and finished third each of the past two years. This year’s tournament is April 3-7 in Simsbury, Conn.

Dylan Webster and Damon Hanson scored six points each and Helena allowed only four goals in six playoff games while improving to 52-1-1 combined for the AWHL regular season and playoffs. Austin Brihn made 18 saves in the clinching shutout.

The addition of Helena, Great Falls, the Billings Bulls, Bozeman IceDogs, Gillette Wild, Glacier Nationals (from Whitefish, Mont.) and Yellowstone Quake (from Cody, Wyo.) from the AWHL as the new Frontier Division will increase the NA3HL membership to 28 teams for the 2014-15 season. The changes are pending formal approval by USA Hockey in June at the Annual Congress as part of the junior recertification process.

“What a great opportunity it is for both the NA3HL and the AWHL to join forces as proud members of USA Hockey in step with creating the best Tier III junior property in the country,” NA3HL president and NAHL commissioner Mark Frankenfeld said in a story on the league website.

The NA3HL’s North Iowa Bulls are the defending Tier III national champions.

MORE TITLES: The Marquette Royales won the Minnesota Junior Hockey League’s Bush Cup and the Boston Junior Bandits won the Metropolitan League’s Keegan Cup.

In the Minnesota League, Jeff Salzbrunn scored on an assist from Lane King four minutes into overtime to lift the first-year Royales to a 3-2 championship game victory over the Dells Ducks. The Royales made it to the final by beating the Hudson Crusaders in three games in the semifinals. The Ducks swept the Illiana Blackbirds.

The teams traded overtime game-winners in the first two games. Marquette’s Dallas McLaughlin, who had a hat trick in a Game 2 loss, scored five goals in the Royales’ 6-4 win in the deciding game.

The two teams, who each won regular-season division titles, advance to Tier III nationals.

The Junior Bandits won an all-Boston Metro final 4-2 over the Junior Rangers. The Junior Bandits went 38-1-3 in the regular season and 7-0 in the playoffs. Mike Taormina was named playoff MVP.

The Junior Bandits reached the final by winning three games in a round robin among division playoff champions: 4-1 over the New Jersey Avalanche, 4-3 over the Boston Junior Rangers and 2-1 over the Richmond Generals. Cody Braga had a hat trick against New Jersey and had the empty-net goal to clinch the final.

The Junior Bandits earned a spot at Tier III nationals. The Junior Rangers will play the Eastern League runner-up for a berth.

PLAYOFF ROUNDUP: The Northern Cyclones kept their championship hopes alive through a triple-overtime game Sunday night, then won again on Tuesday to extend the first Eastern Hockey League championship series to a fifth and deciding game Thursday night.

The New Hampshire Junior Monarchs won the first two games of the series and carried a 3-2 lead into the third period of the third game. Northern defenseman Grant Gallo forced overtime in Game 3 with a power-play goal 2:47 into the third. The game then remained tied through more than 80 shots and nearly 59 minutes until Will Norris broke the tie at 1:49 of the third overtime. Evan Morelli made 74 saves in the win. Jake Theut had 64 saves in the loss.

The Cyclones then rolled to a 6-1 win Tuesday.

The defending champion North Iowa Bulls, Dallas Junior Stars, Flint Junior Generals and St. Louis Junior Blues advanced to the NA3HL’s Silver Cup Championship Thursday through Sunday in Geneva, Ill.

Following a three-game round robin, the top two teams will play for the title and both will advance to nationals.

Blake McIntyre’s second goal, in overtime, lifted Dallas over the Topeka Capitals 4-3 in the third game of their series.

St. Louis also needed three games against the Peoria Mustangs, and North Iowa needed three against the Granite City Lumberjacks. The Flint Junior Generals swept the Cleveland Lumberjacks.

NUMBER ONE: The Fairbanks Ice Dogs defeated the Kenai River Brown Bears 3-2 in a shootout Friday to clinch the overall North American Hockey League regular-season title and home ice throughout the Robertson Cup playoffs. Fairbanks is 43-14-1.

The Michigan Warriors and Janesville Jets clinched spots in the Robertson Cup playoffs.

COLLEGE COMMITMENTS: Chris Buchanan, a defenseman with the Fargo Force of the United States Hockey League, has committed to play at Bentley University. The 19-year-old from San Jose, Calif. is in his second season with Fargo after playing one season with the Alaska Avalanche of the North American Hockey League.

Topeka RoadRunners forward Jake Kamrass committed to UMass-Lowell. The 20-year-old from Norcross, Ga., who is second on the NAHL team in scoring with 56 points in 58 games, will join his older brother, Zach, at UMass-Lowell.

QUICK STRIKES: Brian Pinho of the Indiana Ice needed just 6:23 of the second period to produce a natural hat trick in Saturday’s 4-3 win over the Youngstown Phantoms, giving the Washington Capitals’ draft pick 22 points in the last 14 USHL games.

Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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Three ways to beat burnout

11/28/2016, 9:45pm MST
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.”

Shadow me

11/29/2016, 10:15am MST
By USA Hockey

Officials in Colorado Springs are benefitting from a shadow program

It was roughly five years ago when Tim Whitten noticed a problem in his association. Whitten, an assignor in the Southern Colorado Hockey Officials Association, observed that while new and young officials were signing up, few were returning the following season.

That’s when he berthed the idea of a shadow program.

Andy Flores, president of SCHOA, took time to tell us more about the program and how the association and its officials are reaping the benefits.

USA Hockey: How exactly did the shadow program come to be? What specific problems were you guys noticing?

Andy Flores:
It started with Tim Whitten. He found that we had a large exit rate, mostly because our newer and younger officials didn’t seem to be comfortable. We would be getting up to 10 new officials a year and we’d lose about 40 percent of them. When that happens, it puts a huge hole in your officials pool. So Tim came up with the idea to have veteran officials shadow newer officials to build their confidence on the ice.

USAH: How does the program work?

The program is designed for the new officials, the Level 1s who are in their first year. For the first five games on the ice, they are assigned a shadow. It’s general for a game assignment, a 10U C-level game or something like that. Typically on the ice we will have one senior official, one second-year official and the new officials. The shadow is assigned and works with the new individual. After five games, the shadow identifies if the person needs a little more work or if they are strong and have gained enough knowledge to do it on their own. At that point, they don’t get assigned shadows anymore. If they need a little extra help, they are assigned a shadow as long as they need it.

USAH: Are the shadows technically working the game or are they there as a silent helper?

The shadow’s primary job is to teach, not actually officiate. As a shadow you’re not there to influence the game. We don’t work in a capacity where we are working the game. We don’t call offsides, we don’t call icing and we don’t call penalties; it’s strictly educational purposes for the new individual. A shadow is there to give them support and confidence. A simple ‘Yes, you’re making the right call,’ or, ‘I would have maybe called offsides there,’ is what they are there for. That’s why we have shadows work at some of the lower levels of the game, because they are at a stage where coaches aren’t going to go after a ref for minor mistakes and it allows the new officials to learn in an environment where they aren’t necessarily going to get yelled at for everything.

USAH: What’s the feedback been like?

The senior guys definitely love it. They enjoy the teaching aspect. That’s why I officiate, because I enjoy teaching the game as well as being a part of it, so for those senior guys, it’s fun to be sharing the knowledge. In Colorado Springs, our experience for our guys ranges anywhere from the NHL, USHL all the way down to the local stuff, so we have a vast array of knowledge. I think the newer officials are enjoying it, too. They keep coming back, so we must be doing something right.

USAH: Has the retention improved then?

Absolutely. More than 60-70 percent stay on now for a second year. Plus, we’re getting anywhere from 20 to 30 new guys each year. It’s definitely had a positive impact.

USAH: So you would recommend that other officiating associations give a shadow program like this a try?

Absolutely. You take advantage of those prime opportunities to teach at the time they’re occurring. You don’t have to holler across the ice to try and say ‘Hey, do this,’ or, ‘You can’t do that.’ You don’t want to spend time during the game and you don’t want to slow down the game. With the shadow program, you keep the game flowing while teaching. Plus, I can’t speak enough about the retention. People leave officiating because they don’t feel confident. Now we give them that confidence.

Class of 2016 Enshrined Into U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame

11/30/2016, 8:30pm MST

Bill Belisle, Craig Janney & 1996 U.S. World Cup of Hockey Team Make Up the 2016 Class; Pat Kelly and Mark Howe Receive Lester Patrick Trophy

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