When the Topeka RoadRunners brought in 20-year-old goalie P.J. Bridges for the 2013-14 season, coach and general manager Scott Langer was at first reluctant to start him.
“When he came to our camp in the summer, he was really good,” Langer said. But the coach decided to forego the advice of his scouts and left Bridges on the bench “because I didn’t want to go with a 20-year-old goalie.”
After a slow start, however, Langer changed course and put his chips on Bridges. A team that was 9-5-2 before Bridges made his debut was 30-10-4 after. Topeka finished with the third-best record in the 24-team North American Hockey League and then won the South Division playoff title by defeating the Amarillo Bulls, the defending Robertson Cup champions and regular-season division champions.
“Ever since we got him, our season turned around tremendously and we never looked back,” Langer, who had hoped to have a No. 1 goalie to develop for more than a season. “In the end, it was the wrong decision, because you need the best goaltender to win.
“There’s no question that was the wrong process and a learning experience for me as a coach.”
The revised decision worked well for both the team and player.
Bridges, who was beginning his third season playing in Canada, joined the RoadRunners and took the NAHL by storm, becoming that “best goaltender” the team needed to succeed. He tied a league record with 10 shutouts and was recently named Goaltender of the Year in voting by the league’s coaches.
“This was a dream come true for me from start to finish,” said Bridges, who said he “completely understood” the original thought process. “None of this would have been possible without the coaching staff, my great teammates and the style coach Langer coaches, which is a great team game.
“In a very solid defensive system with great players in front of you, it makes it easier.”
Bridges did more than put up numbers. “He’s constantly working on his game; his off-ice training is great, and he’s a great leader,” Langer said. “The rest of the team just wanted to play in front of him.
“It was fun to watch.”
The leadership also carried over to the team’s most trying time. In January, RoadRunners forward Peter Halash was killed in a traffic accident.
“P.J. and Peter were roommates,” Langer said. “It was so traumatic, so difficult for everybody. We went through a tough period. P.J. was our backbone. He stood up and said, ‘We’re going to play for Peter’. He’s the kid who could have been crushed, but he turned it around and led.”
Bridges said he always wanted to play in the NAHL. Now that the 20-year-old from Waterford, Mich. has had that chance, he is back in a familiar place, trying to finalize plans for his next stop.
With multiple visits planned, Bridges is hoping to work out where he will begin his college career in the fall. From experience, Langer can offer some advice to the college recruiters.
“Looking at his numbers, tying a league record and being named NAHL Goaltender of the Year, it’s a little frustrating that he’s not signed, sealed and delivered today,” Langer said. “As a coach and GM, that’s tough because if they got him in the locker room and could see what he provides in the locker room as well as on the ice, it’s a no-brainer.”
Langer appreciates having had the chance to see for himself.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.
Starting with the upcoming season, USA Hockey is launching a new online curriculum in our Officiating Education Program. In addition to the standard registration requirements, including application, open and closed book testing and attendance at a USA Hockey Officiating Seminar, every official must complete the online material prior to receiving their card and crest for 2014-15.
The online curriculum is designed to enhance educational experience with accurate and consistent officiating information. The online modules will be broken down into three categories. The first two requirements will include general and level-specific presentations. The third category will have elective courses from a variety of topics such as positioning, procedures, penalty criteria and the mental game. These electives will be level-specific and allow you to hone your officiating skills in areas you select.
The length of each presentation will vary depending on content and focus. The majority of the presentations will fall in the 5- to 10-minute range, followed by a short quiz reviewing the content. The entire online curriculum will take 3-5 hours to complete, depending on the level of the official. The in-person seminar each official will be required to attend will be abbreviated and designed to supplement the material presented in the online curriculum.
Instructions on accessing the online seminar will be sent to you upon receiving your USA Hockey application. The curriculum will be accessed through your USAHockey.com profile and can be completed at your leisure, meaning you can log out and log back in to pick up where you left off. Some presentations are designed to be viewed before attending the seminar as a means to improve the overall seminar experience. These will be highlighted for your consideration.
Officials will find this new system to be beneficial and it will make your overall USA Hockey experience a more valuable one. Let’s get the season off to a great start!