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Hockey Director Certification Program a Hit at NARCE

06/16/2014, 11:00am MDT
By Paul Batterson - Special to

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Brian Coletta admits he’s a bit of a “hands on” learner, so the North American Rink Conference and Expo’s Hockey Director Certification Program turned out to be the perfect fit for the assistant coach for the Point Mallard Ducks junior hockey team in Decatur, Ala.

On the first day of the program, held May 19-22 in Columbus, Ohio, hockey directors and coaches strapped on their skates and experienced first-hand the drills and training exercises associated with USA Hockey’s American Development Model.

“Different people learn in different ways,” said Coletta, who was an assistant coach for Fitchburg State and Finlandia University before heading to Alabama. “I’m a person who looks to get his hands in there.

“It was fun to see up close the implantation of the things they’ve been talking about. I wouldn’t say it was physically demanding, but we got a good sweat going out there.”

The Hockey Director Certification Program course took participants to the Ohio Health Ice Haus. Ty Hennes, an ADM manager for the Rocky Mountain and Pacific regions, had coaches participate in the drills on the first day of classes so they could teach groups of 8-and-under, 10U, 12U, 14U and 16U players in the remaining three days of the conference.

Hennes called the drills “small area games with concepts.” One station of the drills might focus on games designed to teach players to clear pucks while another would have players do games designed to improve their forechecking abilities.

“This was the first time some of the instructors had been a part of a station-based practice,” Hennes said. “[Some of them had] a big a-ha moment. Coaches saw players weren’t just standing around; everyone was engaged in the drills.”

Kevin McLaughlin, the Senior Director of Hockey Development for USA Hockey, said the learning by doing approach is crucial when training coaches.

“You can show them [drills] on a piece of paper or on a video, but when you actually get on the ice and put them through the exercises themselves, they have a new appreciation of the activity level,” McLaughlin said. “Sometimes [adults] tend to forget what it is like to be a little kid. [Coaches and hockey directors] need to see how important it is for the kids to have fun during practices.”

Brian Copeland, hockey director of the Colorado Springs Amateur Hockey Association (CSAHA), agreed.

“They kind of transported themselves back to the time when they were kids,” he said. “There were smiles over the place. Coaches were out there having fun. That’s how you get kids to stay in hockey: Make sure they’re having fun.”

If the numbers are any indication, Copeland’s players are having fun. Since being named as a USA Hockey “model program,” the CSAHA has grown by 21 percent over the past two years and the association’s 8U program has repeatedly sold out.

“We don’t do any marketing. The families in our 8-and-Under group are spreading the word,” Copeland said.

The drills did more than make the game more fun for Copeland’s teams. The drills also made them more competitive. Copeland points to the success of his Bantam B team. During the 2011-12 season, the Colorado Springs association only had one player ranked in the top 24 and only four players in the top 75 in scoring in their 15-team league. Last season, the team had the league’s highest scorer and seven players ranked in the top 10 in the league’s scoring.

Sometimes the new drills were met with resistance from parents and coaches who favored full ice scrimmages.

“When we first started out, there was some aversion to it. People thought we needed to play full ice because that is what adult hockey looks like,” Copeland said. “That’s the problem. You’re laying down adult constrictions on kids, thinking that’s what is good for youth hockey. That is simply not true.”

Coletta, on the contrary, was won over immediately. He said the drills get more players actively involved than full-ice scrimmages.

“When I ran youth programs in Massachusetts, there was always this push back from the kids who wanted to go full ice,” Coletta said. “I always hated full-ice practices. There was too much standing around and only the best player has the puck on his stick the whole time.”

Bob Mancini, a regional manager for the ADM in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Missouri, believes the Hockey Director Certification program did more than just teach coaches new drills.

“We need to people to understand the difference between coaching 8-years-olds and 10-year-olds,” said Mancini, a former development coach with the Edmonton Oilers. “We want [course participants] to not just become better coaches and hockey directors but empowered them to make everyone in the hockey association better.”

Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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08/25/2015, 3:30pm MDT
By USA Hockey

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.


08/27/2015, 9:00am MDT
By Kelly Erickson

When it comes to women’s hockey, there is no argument that USA Hockey and Hockey Canada have the two premier programs in the world. Earlier this month, their young talent took to the ice in Lake Placid, New York, as a part of the U18 and U22 Select Series.

While there were several athletes on both teams who competed for their country in such an event for the first time, it also marked a special occasion for Melissa Szkola. An experienced official who has worked a handful of International Ice Hockey Federation events, Lake Placid marked her first USA-Canada affair. USA Hockey caught up with the Michigan native to talk about the amazing international experience and her evolving officiating career.

USA Hockey: What was it like to be a part of the U22 and U18 Select Series’

Melissa Szkola: The experience was wonderful. It was fantastic. We’ve essentially got the two best teams in the world competing against each other, so the learning experience, working with the officials that we have, is always amazing. You leave here a better person, a better official; that’s what we’re here for. That’s what I look forward to the most at these big-time events: the level of hockey and what you get out of it as a whole.

USAH: How did you first get into officiating?

Szkola: It’s been nine years since I got my start. I was a competitive figure skater and my older brother played hockey, so I’ve always been around the game, but it was my husband who actually got me into the officiating side of it. When we started dating, he was a roller and ice hockey official. He asked me to come with one time and I said ‘okay.’ That’s how I got started. It’s something he and I have in common and he is my biggest supporter. I wouldn’t be here without him.

USAH: So nine years under your belt, how would you describe some of your past IIHF events?

Szkola: I’ve had a handful of experiences with international tournaments. Each one has brought a new set of skills to my plate. You learn a lot about yourself and you learn a lot from your supervisors from different countries as well. To get out and work with other female officials and learn from them and your supervisors is amazing.

Being in another country, where sometimes there aren’t people who even speak English, is a really unique experience as well. The communication that you learn to speak with non-English speaking officials really makes you appreciate what you have in common – hockey.

USAH: How did the Select Series compare to those events?

Szkola: The level of play, it’s definitely much higher at the Select Series than any of the championships that I’ve been to. I wouldn’t say that the intensity is much different, because at each level they are competing for their highest achievement. The intensity is the same, the importance is the same, but the level of play is definitely much better; it’s faster, it’s crisper. Your awareness just has to be that much higher.

USAH: Did calling a game with high-caliber players like those at the Select Series shake up any nerves?

Szkola: I’ll be honest, I was a little nervous before we got on the ice. I’ve watched Team USA and Team Canada compete before, so you know the level at which they intend to play. Being out there with it, you just know where the emotions can go sometimes. It was a little nerve-wracking before the start, but as soon as that puck drops, you have a job to do. USA Hockey does a fantastic job developing us; I feel like they wouldn’t put you out there if you weren’t ready. Once that puck drops, you’re kind of at home.

USAH: What’s next for your officiating future?

Szkola: The support that I have, not only from my hometown in Michigan, but also the support and development USA Hockey has given really sets you up for success if you want to take it in that direction. That is my goal. I do want to skate in the Olympics. Moving forward I am going to continue to improve upon each experience that I have, because you can always be better. Mistakes do get made, so you learn from those and improve yourself. 

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