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The Grandville Hockey Community Remembers Ryan Fischer

06/13/2014, 4:45pm MDT
By Roman J. Uschak - Special to USAHockey.com

It was going to be the biggest game of Ryan Fischer’s life.

The senior forward and team co-captain had helped Grandville High School to its first-ever Michigan Division 1 state semifinal hockey appearance. The Bulldogs were slated to play in Plymouth against powerhouse Novi Detroit Catholic Central on March 7.

Fischer, who also starred in football and baseball, and was to attend the United States Military Academy to study aerospace engineering, wouldn’t get to play in that game, or any other, however.

He never woke up that morning.

Fischer, 17, who had assisted on a Grandville overtime goal in an earlier state playoff victory, died in his sleep of an enlarged heart, according to a Kent County medical examiner. It was an unforeseen medical condition — and his unexpected passing stunned the small west Michigan community.

“I ran down there as the whole situation was unfolding,” said Grandville coach Joel Breazeale, a neighbor of the Fischer family. “We were still in shock.”

Word soon spread of what had transpired. Breazeale said that a major goal was to try to keep the situation contained and off of social media, to help protect Fischer’s sister, who was away at college in Wisconsin, from inadvertently finding out.

Breazeale gathered his team soon after at his home to make the terrible announcement about their teammate, and the players also got to share their thoughts and shed their tears.

“We just spoke from the heart, and let the boys express their emotions,” Breazeale said. “The day was one of complete shock, including our coaching staff.”

No one would have questioned the Bulldogs if they had chosen not to go ahead with the state playoff game two hours away. Yet play they did, at the behest of Ryan Fischer’s parents, Roni and Scott, who spoke to each and every player before they departed for the Detroit area on a sullen bus ride.

“They found the composure to think about the boys,” Breazeale said of the Fischers. “It was a huge, huge day for our community.”

The Bulldogs (16-11-3) came up short against Catholic Central by a 3-0 count at Compuware Arena, despite 34 saves from Grandville goaltender Myles Madden, the second star of the game. At the request of the Fischers, co-captain Max Houtman wore their son’s No. 11 jersey to honor his long-time friend, “Fish.” So did many of the dozens in the stands who were dressed in maroon and white and had made the trek from the Grand Rapids area.

“It was a huge honor for me to wear his number, and I hope I made Ryan proud,” said an emotional Houtman to mlive.com afterwards.

“We did what we felt was the right thing to do,” Breazeale said. “It was truly inspiring despite the tragedy ... It was the type of outpouring we’ve come to expect from the hockey community.”

He added that it was Ryan’s mother who had urged getting the hockey community involved — and not just from Grand Rapids or Michigan, but from all over, at all levels of the game.

“It was awe-inspiring,” Breazeale said.

Catholic Central fans wore Grandville’s colors in a show of solidarity. Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Jack Johnson, a Michigan native and former University of Michigan blueliner, even sent supportive tweets to the Bulldogs.

When the final buzzer sounded, Grandville’s players didn’t stand alone. They were joined in a huddle by Catholic Central players, who were also playing and praying for one of their own in senior Matt Sorisho, who had been paralyzed in another game just weeks earlier. The Shamrocks, who saluted the crowd post-game along with the Bulldogs, won the state title the next night over Brighton.

Fischer’s funeral at St. Pius X Catholic Church on March 12 was standing room only in the faith-based Grandville community. The Ryan Fischer Legacy Scholarship, through Fifth Third Bank, has been established in his name and will honor a player in Grandville’s conference who embodies Fischer’s qualities of character, determination, integrity, academic achievement and community service.

A skating fundraiser was slated for May to benefit the scholarship in Fischer’s name, as his hometown continued its healing process. An April fundraiser in his memory was also held at a local movie theater with the “Captain America” sequel, which proved to be a fitting choice.

“Everyone looked up to him. I mean, he was the Captain America of our school,” said former teammate Logan Bellgraph, who donned Fischer’s No. 11 for a runner-up finish in a 3-on-3 tournament at Ferris State University. “He was the greatest friend ever, and he was everyone's best friend.”

Now he lives on in their memories.

“The impact he had as a great Christian young man, player and scholar will be everlasting,” Breazeale said. “We’re better because of what Ryan did for us.”

Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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08/25/2015, 3:30pm MDT
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No one has ever said that officiating, and especially officiating ice hockey, was easy. Rule knowledge, communication skills, fitness, skating and a natural presence are just some of the skills necessary to be a successful official.  Some possess more of these skills and those are the officials who advance to higher levels. But regardless of the level achieved or the skill set the official possesses, the one quality that should be equal among every official is a high level of integrity.

The national official staff members, along with our volunteer referees-in-chief and local supervisors, have heard growing concerns over a decreasing level of integrity among our youth hockey officials. It’s sometimes said that no one is holding them accountable. A portion of this perception is likely a typical “blame the officials” mentality, but some anecdotal evidence suggests there is also some merit to this concern. That’s alarming to USA Hockey, as it affects the credibility of our entire program, along with every member it represents. The blunt truth is this: even one official who isn’t on the up and up can and will damage the credibility of all officials who do take pride in the integrity of their work.

Whether we like it or not, officials are under a microscope, and by the nature of the business, are held to a very high standard. When we signed up for this officiating gig, we committed ourselves to represent the game of hockey, USA Hockey, our local group of officials and ourselves as people of integrity who accept the responsibility and guardianship of enforcing the rules in a fair and consistent manner. Most importantly, we must remember that the game is bigger than all of us and that the game itself is what we serve. Those who lose sight of that not only compromise the competitive fairness of the games, they also make life more difficult for all of the officials by damaging the credibility of the officiating community.

An example of this type of unacceptable behavior occurred last season. A Level 2 adult official tended to work his games with a chip on his shoulder. He often created confrontation with coaches, alienated his younger partners with inaccurate advice and disregarded their help in attempting to get some calls and rule applications right. Even though the help they were providing was correct, he chose to maintain his incorrect position that affected the outcome of several games. He also tended to identify certain players and single them out for various infractions and/or on-ice lectures as a means of emphasizing his authority.

Once the trends were identified, concerns were voiced by several parents and coaches to the local assigner and supervisor, who acknowledged they had never seen the official’s work, but would keep throwing him out there working the same teams and levels that had expressed concerns regarding his attitude. This included intentionally assigning him a playoff game involving the coach who was the most vocal in expressing concerns. This official was then instructed to “throw the coach out if he says anything.”

That playoff game went without a hitch – a tight 2-1 game with a couple of close off-side plays and maybe an icing or two missed. In the post-game dressing room, the official in question, in the presence of his partners and the officials scheduled to work the next game, said, “It’s always a great day when you can make one or both of the coaches mad. It’s too bad the white team coach didn’t want to play along today.” The partners sat there in silence until finally a 12-year-old Level 1 official who was working the next game said, “I don’t think that’s right. We’re not supposed to bait coaches.”

The official got dressed quickly and left the room without saying another word. Kind of ironic that it was the innocent 12-year-old that seemed to “get it” and instill a sense of accountability among those in the room. Imagine how any 12-year-old player feels on the ice when they see the official(s) displaying an attitude that is simply not to the standard the game deserves. And yes, more often than not, they can see through those who do not have the level of integrity expected.

Fortunately, these types of officials are few and far between. But they do exist and to simply stick our heads in the sand and not address the concern is irresponsible. Each of us, as officials, has an obligation to behave in a professional manner at all times and take our role seriously. We have made a commitment to approach each game with the understanding that the game is about the players and we should be invisible until the players require us to appear as a result of infractions that occur. Respect is a two-way street and simply putting on the sweater with the USA Hockey crest suggests respect is warranted, but only if supported by your actions.

USA Hockey has an obligation to create a non-threatening environment that promotes respect for officials and an opportunity for officials to improve through education and evaluation. USA Hockey does this through playing rules, points of emphasis, zero tolerance policies and comprehensive education programs for officials, coaches, parents and players.

In return, the game expects USA Hockey officiating members to bring a professional image to every contest and an attitude that creates a positive environment and makes the game better. We realize everyone makes mistakes – it’s part of the game. However, laziness or unprofessional behavior is unacceptable and being creative in rule enforcement and not holding players/coaches accountable for infractions will only make the next team of officials’ jobs much more difficult and set them up for failure.

The reality is that the game official must always hold themselves to the highest level of integrity and behavior both on and off the ice. Maybe that’s fair, or maybe not, but it is the expectation we are required to meet.

As we head into the 2015-16 season, ask yourself if you are willing to meet that expectation. If the answer is yes, welcome back and we look forward to a great season.

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