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U.S. National Sled Team Reloads for 2014-15 Season

07/23/2014, 11:00am MDT
By USAHockey.com

By Dan Hickling
Special to USAHockey.com

WILLIAMSVILLE, N.Y. – It's been barely four months since USA's sled hockey triumph at the Paralympics in Sochi, Russia, and you would think a gilded resume would be a ticket to a spot on the 2014-15 U.S. National Sled Hockey Team. Right?

Nope. Not necessarily.

Which is why one saw the likes of Josh Sweeney, Steve Cash and Josh Pauls, all of them gold-medal winners, intermingled among nearly 50 other hopefuls at U.S. National Team tryouts held at The Northtown Center in suburban Buffalo.

All three, plus eight more returnees from last year's Paralympic champions, seemed to be locks to regain their spots on the team.

But sports is a “what have you done lately?” beast, and four months might as well be an eternity. And you don't get to wear, or sink your teeth into a gold medal by taking anything for granted.

As it happened, all 11 returning members from Sochi, along with six newcomers, successfully battled their way onto the 2014-15 roster, which has just been announced by USA Hockey.

Thus began the four-year ramp up to the 2018 Paralympic Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, and a hoped-for third consecutive gold medal.

“That's hockey,” said Sweeney, who netted the lone goal in the gold-medal victory against Russia. “That's how it is. It's a real humbling sport. You can't get too big-headed. You'll start to think you're doing real well, then you'll be on the ice for a practice and be the worst player out there. It's one of those sports that's keeps you real humble. [I worked] just as hard as these guys to earn a spot on this team. The coaches are looking at skill and how they can put together another gold-medal winning team.

That sentiment was echoed by Pauls, who like Cash, has two gold medals to display.

“This is a whole new cycle,” noted Pauls. “Hey, we won in Sochi, and that's all great. But now we're on the road to Pyeongchang.”

The first major stop on the route will be back in Buffalo, at the 2015 International Paralympic Committee Ice Sledge Hockey World Championship, to be staged April 24-May 2 at the soon-to-be opened HARBORCENTER.

They'll do so without half a dozen key members of the Sochi squad.

Veteran team leaders Andy Yohe, a defenseman, and Taylor Lipsett, a forward, have retired from competition, while defenseman and alternate captain Taylor Chace and forwards Rico Roman and Greg Shaw are sitting out this season.

Goalie Jen Lee, who is on active duty with the US Army, is also taking time off.

Those departures will leave a huge hole in the Team USA lineup and dressing room.

“Not only are they buddies of mine,” said Cash, the goalie who backstopped Team USA to gold at the 2010 and 2014 Paralympics, “but they're brothers. Their leadership on the ice will factor in. We'll have newer guys coming in who haven't been on the team before. They're not really sure what to expect. [But] I don't have any doubts that within a year, we'll be clicking on all cylinders.”

Said fourth-year head coach Jeff Sauer, “The emotional thing for me is the guys who retired. They were a huge part of our success. They are like sons to me. I'd like to see them continue forever. That's just not the way it's going to be.”

Even so, Sauer, the savvy veteran bench boss that he is, is already figuring out ways to mix the old blood with the new.

“I think our team speed is improved from last year,” said Sauer. “The new guys will make us a faster team than we were. That will be a big plus.”

Sauer's biggest challenge will be to make up for the losses of defensive rocks Yohe and Chace.

He's promoted blueliners Sam Mumper and Billy Hanning from the U.S. National Developmental Team and also plans to shift the versatile Pauls from forward back to defense, a role with which he has experience.
 
“I don't really want to [move Pauls],” Sauer said, “but I think we have to do that. That takes a little bit away from the first line, but I think we can handle that.”

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INTEGRITY AND ACCOUNTABILITY IN OFFICIATING

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.

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Tag(s): Team USA  Disabled  Sled Hockey  News & Features  Developmental Team