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The hockey landscape has changed dramatically over the years as our sport continues to grow, oftentimes in non-traditional hockey areas. There are more players participating than ever before, and more opportunities for players, coaches and officials at all levels of the game.
USA Hockey is flourishing in many aspects, and the likelihood is this growth and development will continue.
The implementation of the American Development Model has played a huge role in changing the culture of how the game is presented at the grassroots levels of play and the environment that is created for the participants. This initiative focuses on, not only participation, but also the development of skills that will allow them to create their own life-long passion for the sport of hockey.
Every player is provided an equal opportunity to practice and play, and as a result is allowed to develop their personal hockey skills at their pace. Participation is not restricted to only the best and most talented younger players, recognizing they may not be the best player as they get older. The primary premise is that each individual has an opportunity to reach their potential while falling in love with hockey.
The end result of the ADM is that USA Hockey will have more kids playing at the older levels of youth hockey and at a higher skill level in the years to come. This fact places an additional burden on the officiating program to provide capable and qualified officials to work these games—a challenge that really emphasizes the need to follow the same philosophy on the development front.
Welcoming new members into officiating (recruiting), assisting them in developing their skills and creating an environment that allows them to develop their own life-long passion for officiating (retention) is a must to keep up with the changing landscape of the game. As a result, USA Hockey has created the Long Term Official Development Guideline.
Each registered official plays a role in creating this environment as all levels of play provide the necessary opportunity to develop officials. USA Hockey’s Red, White and Blue cross-ice program is the perfect chance for a younger new official to get on the ice and hone some basic game flow and positioning skills in a low intensity environment.
Officials working at the younger age classifications will, ideally, have the chance to hone their skills as a linesman, calling off-sides, icings and conducting face-offs in the three official system. In many areas where there is a shortage of officials, newer officials may be provided their first exposure to the two-official system, where they would also need to call other infractions. In these instances, they need to be partnered with and mentored by more experienced officials.
Officials then move up the ladder—both from a level of play standpoint, and with the amount of responsibility assigned to them. Officials may have their first chance to referee in the three-official system or are challenged with the pace or difficulty of the game. Evaluation comes into play at this stage and this group may even become mentors for the newer officials.
The third stage of development will sometimes provide a fork in the road. By now, the official is hooked on officiating and has, hopefully, developed the passion for being on the ice in this role. For many, they are happy to be a part of the game and are content working the higher levels of youth hockey in their geographic area. They become evaluators, instructors, assignors and leaders within their local officiating community. This group is a critical part of our program as they most likely have the greatest influence in the environment that is created at the local level.
The other fork in the road is for those who have developed the passion to pursue the highest levels of officiating and are considering making officiating their career choice. For these aspiring officials, USA Hockey has created our Junior Officiating Development Program. This program provides structure, opportunity and resources for officials to be successful at the highest levels of USA Hockey and hopefully advance onto the professional ranks or college hockey.
Regardless as to their success moving up the ladder, or whether they determine a career in officiating may not be for them, we hope they have developed a loyalty to stay involved with the USA Hockey Officiating Program throughout their career.
USA Hockey has developed and distributed the resources for success at all of these levels of development, and will continue to look at ways to support our grassroots programs. However, much of our success is directly dependent on our volunteers at the local level, specifically those who have the most direct influence with the officials and the environment in which they work. This is most likely their assignor along with the local youth hockey association and their ability to work together for a common goal is crucial to recruiting, educating and developing grassroots officials.
Much of USA Hockey’s Officiating Program emphasis in the coming years will be designed to better support officials with a stronger commitment to developing all levels of officiating, regardless as to their skill level and aspirations.
Dan Ellison started playing hockey in the 1960s. The speed of the game and skill of the players mesmerized him. Since then, he’s participated in the game as a player, parent, coach and referee in a lifetime that includes spending 30 years with the San Diego Police Department.
Taking over for Steve Stevens as the Referee-In-Chief for the Pacific District, Stripes caught up with Ellison about the new job, his history in hockey and what he’s learned from the work of his predecessor that he would like to carry into the future.
Stripes: How does it feel to now be the Pacific District Referee-In-Chief?
Dan Ellison: I’m very honored by my selection. It’s a lot busier than I anticipated, but it’s very enjoyable and I’m learning a lot.
Stripes: What have you learned so far on the job?
Ellison: It’s all the different facets of hockey. I’m very fortunate that I played, I was a (hockey) parent, I coached, and I was an official. So I’ve seen (the game) from all different sides. When you get immersed in the lower levels of officiating, a lot of times it feels like you are against the world, or the officials against everybody, but in the position I’m in now I really see that there is a lot of support for new officials.
The rules come from the players committee, not the officiating. It’s their request that we enforce these rules to keep the game safe and fair. I think that people lose sight of it and officials can lose sight of it too. They don’t realize the people making the decisions are truly in support of the officials calling the game the way the rulebook is written. It’s much easier to see that in the position I’m in now because I’m dealing with coaches, teams and league affiliates.
Stripes: Why is it important for officials to have the support you mentioned?
Ellison: When you’re out there and see parents, coaches, players, any time they disagree with a call or an official’s interpretation of the play, the officials feel like it’s a personal attack on them. The coaches yelling or parents screaming don’t realize that the frustration of the individual, either a poor play by the player, or that the official caught them. It’s unfortunate but I came from a background in law enforcement so I should be used to that.
Stripes: What drew you into officiating?
Ellison: I got into coaching first. My son decided he wanted to play. One thing led to another and the coach of his team had some personal issues come up and so asked, “can you coach the team?” So I was coaching and trying to teach my players how to play the game the right way. We go to a game and an official, I was teaching the kids a defensive skill about how you block a player without checking them, and the official kept calling them for interference.
I didn’t yell at the official, but I talked to him after the game and I said “I’m trying to coach these kids, so I want to know why you’re calling the penalty that way.” He explained to me and then we had a talk, we met later for coffee, and he said, “you know a lot about hockey. Why don’t you become a ref?” Okay.
I still have several friends who I’ve grown up that had become officials and I’ve been able to help with the transition.
Stripes: What do you hope to carry into the future in your role
Ellison: Sustaining the enthusiasm for people to get into the sport as an official. It’s difficult because of the way the environment are when parents aren’t particularly happy, but being young, especially the younger people, they’re about 15-16, when you see that they have what it takes, just convincing them to get in and stick with it. Passing on the knowledge, not just of the rules but the nuances of the game.
I hope to continue passing on that enthusiasm for it. Steve Stevens, my predecessor at the position, was really good at helping develop younger officials and I’m hoping to keep going and pushing that forward. He made some really good strides on the female officiating side and I hope to keep that going as well.
I’m lucky we have one woman here, and I still remember recruiting her, she was a player and she worked at one of the local rinks where we were holding a seminar. She had tried officiating but had then went away for college. When she came back from college, she was sitting at the rink one day and I teased her a little bit about getting back into officiating. She showed up at our seminar the next week and now she’s traveling all over the place, working high levels of hockey, she’s in the international program. So it’s very, very fun to see someone who you’ve worked with and recruited make it.