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Trent Klatt: “Go Play Ball”

05/12/2014, 5:45pm MDT
By USA Hockey

Fourteen-year NHL veteran and New York Islanders head amateur scout Trent Klatt has a message for coaches and parents this offseason:

“Put the hockey equipment in the rafters and go play ball.”

Klatt, a product of the Brooklyn Park youth hockey system and Osseo High School in Minnesota, played just about every sport as a child. It helped him develop into a premier, well-rounded athlete who enjoyed each passing season. Now, as an NHL scout, he looks for that same type of athleticism.

Klatt sat down with USA Hockey and explained why the offseason should be spent off the ice.

USA Hockey: The culture seems to have moved away from the three-sport athlete. What other sports did you play?

Trent Klatt: I played every sport my mom and dad put me in. The three main sports I played were football, hockey and baseball. That’s just what we did. It was all about being a three-sport athlete 20 or 30 years ago. It wasn’t about one sport. It was, “Hey, it’s fall. It’s time for football, soccer or tennis. In the wintertime, it’s hockey or basketball or wrestling. In spring, it’s golf or baseball or whatever.” I’m not saying it’s not that way now, but it’s not even close to what it used to be.

USA Hockey: Why do you think society has gone away from the three-sport athlete?

Trent Klatt: I think it’s money. I think it’s the dreams of a professional career. I think parents fear that, if the kid next door is doing it, my kid has to do it to keep up. That’s the attitude now. Parents think their kid is pretty good and they don’t want them to fall behind. But it’s just not the case.

USA Hockey: So when parents ask you about signing up for summer hockey leagues, camps and festivals, what do you tell them?

Trent Klatt: When parents ask me about what their kid should do, I say, “Hey, look, it doesn’t matter.” As an NHL scout, when I’m looking at these kids, I want to see an athlete. That’s one of the biggest things I look for – not if they can play one sport.

USA Hockey: Can that be difficult for some parents to grasp?

Trent Klatt: Here’s one very generic analogy: Everybody loves to wind up and take a big one-time slap shot on the power play to score the big goal. You can’t tell me that a 50- to 60-mile-per-hour pass is not somehow related to a 70- or 80-mile-per-hour fastball. The hand-eye coordination for both sports actually complements each other. I don’t understand how people can’t grasp that. The multisport athlete uses different muscle memory, different muscles, different parts of their brain – they’re becoming a more well-rounded athlete rather than just going up and down the wing from north to south.

USA Hockey: Even professional hockey players need a break.

Trent Klatt: I’ve played the sport 12 months a year at the age of 30 as an NHL’er. It took everything I possibly had to get through every phase of the season, whether it was July or December. I just don’t think kids are capable of doing it. I think they get burnt out and I think they quit. And one of the biggest things that happens – they get hurt. That’s when their bodies start to break down and they start to get hurt. I know; mine did.

Put a glove in his or her hand. Put the hockey equipment in the rafters and go play ball. That’s what I tell parents. I’m that adamant. I think kids need to turn their brains off. They need to hear from a different coach. They need to play different sports.

USA Hockey: What if the kids still want to play some hockey and work on skills during the offseason? What’s your advice then?

Trent Klatt: I don’t have any problem if a kid picks up their stick and wants to stickhandle or play with their friends and it’s July 15, because the kid wants to. If there is any bit of pressure from mom or dad, I think that’s wrong. The kid starts to feel pressure that they have to attend these camps to keep up with their neighbors – that’s where I draw the line.

USA Hockey: What other benefits are there to playing multiple sports?

Trent Klatt: When baseball season is over and hockey starts up again, the kids are excited again. They want to go to the rink. Now they’re really willing to put in the effort and the time to improve. How often do kids want to go to school right now? My kids don’t want to go to school right now. The only reason they’re going to school is because they’re counting down the days. They have 18 days left.

USA Hockey: What if they miss a chance to get noticed by scouts and college/junior coaches?

Trent Klatt: Forty years ago, when there wasn’t internet, there was a risk that if you were in an obscure place, you might not get noticed. In today’s world and the technology that we have now – nobody will be hidden. The player will get seen at some point if they’re good enough. The kids can’t hide.

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Photo by: Elan Kawesch/Harvard University

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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. 

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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?  

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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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