USA Hockey provides the foundation for the sport of ice hockey in America; helps young people become leaders, even Olympic heroes; and connects the game at every level while promoting a lifelong love of the sport.
Looking for a pick-up game? Or how about registering your kids for a new team? Look no further as we can provide a complete list of USA Hockey sanctioned organizations near you!
In his first trip to Eagle River, Wisconsin for the USA Hockey Adult Pond Hockey Championships, Erik Nyberg was a part of the event’s history. On a weekend where the majority of players are there to have fun and compete, the veteran referee and Oregon State Referee-in-Chief officiated a competitive semifinal game that would not end.
“I did have a record, I’m told. I had a six overtime game in my semifinal game,” he said. “Finally after the sixth overtime, one team took it home.”
It’s not the only unique experience for the pond hockey championships. Due to weather and the ice not forming, the 2020 edition moved from its normal home on Dollar Lake to the nearby Derby Track.
The change did not affect the play much and allowed for everyone to be centralized in one big location rather than spread out several tents out on the lake. It also helped make the event feel more like a small community, not that it needed it.
“I really can’t say enough about the people of Eagle River. It seems like everyone in the town is involved with this event,” said referee Pete Morris, working his fourth USA Hockey Adult Pond Hockey Championships. “They’re all friendly and looking to help you with whatever you need to get done. We’ve made really good friends up there over the years.”
From the moment Morris leaves Buffalo to head to the event, the camaraderie among refs and USA Pond Hockey Championship participants already has begun. Referees working the event get to catch up on how others are doing and develop new friendships.
It’s one of the reasons he keeps returning since initially being asked by friends at USA Hockey.
“It’s really just a great experience,” he said. “We have a ball with the other officials that come from around the country, some of whom we’ve seen there multiple times. Just the experience of being outdoors and officiating and watching the guys and women play some grassroots hockey really.”
Nyberg, meanwhile, officiated at the recommendation of Pacific District Referee-in-Chief Dan Ellison. He went in with an open mind and came away impressed.
Being new to the pond hockey championship, he felt welcomed and helped by the veteran group from the moment he arrived.
“The night before we started, they gave us some tips they had learned over the years. Having a whole lot of pucks in your pocket so you can keep the play going out on the ice and not having to find the puck to keep the games going,” said Nyberg. “Some general things that were different between pond hockey and regular hockey on an ice rink were very helpful.”
As a marquee event featuring a variety of players from their 20s to 70s, Morris tries to work games in as many different age groups and divisions as possible. The younger adults take the pond hockey games more seriously. Everyone is there, however, to be hanging out with their friends.
He also makes it a habit to take photos of all the best jerseys he sees.
“You want to work games in all different divisions and experience all different levels of competition and talent,” Morris said. “I see some of the same teams back year after year. On our flights up, a few times we’ve flown into Chicago and then to Wausau, we’ve flown with a few players from different teams. It’s a big social gathering in that way too.”
Working a few games at a time, being out on the ice most of the day and ending with social gatherings - Morris said one of the crew was an outstanding chef who makes dinner for the group - refereeing the USA Hockey Adult Pond Hockey Championships is quite an experience.
Even if most games do not make history, like the one Nyberg refereed.
“I was pleasantly surprised at how much sportsmanship was between the teams. Most of the teams I dealt with were really, really good spirited and had a lot of fun,” he said. “As a result, it made my experience a real fun time. I definitely want to go back.”
As is annual tradition, USA Hockey stakeholders headed to Florida this past January for USA Hockey’s Winter Meetings. Various sections had a chance to meet and discuss various pressing issues.
This was the case in the officiating section. Dave LaBuda, USA Hockey’s national referee-in-chief, was part of those meetings, but he also had another big moment. He was one of the honorees of this year’s President’s Award for outstanding contribution.
With weeks gone by since the meeting, we recently sat down with LaBuda to discuss what happened this year in Orlando, Florida.
STRIPES: What were some of the goals for the officiating section heading into this year’s Winter Meetings?
DAVE LABUDA: The officiating section went into the winter meetings with the priority being the retention and abuse of officials issue. Our approach to that was to give an address to the general members in attendance, explaining the problem and the effects of the problem along with a crisis in the number of officials registering and working the youth hockey games we have going on across the country.
STRIPES: What were some of the biggest issues the officiating section talked about at this year’s meetings?
DL: During our address to the general membership we had, the things that really seemed to take people by surprise was that on an annual basis, we lose about 7,000 officials every year. That basically emphasized the crisis situation we’re in. If we were able to reduce the turnover number, it would give us the ability to catch up on things on the officiating side as the growth on the player side continues.
STRIPES: What were some of the biggest accomplishments or discussions during this year’s meetings?
DL: The Winter Meetings traditionally serve a couple of regular goals. It’s our regular time to start our preparation for national tournaments. Also, since we’ve started the tenure program with officials, it also establishes the date and location for our annual officiating symposium, which is a requirement for those officials looking to qualify for tenure. We also get updates down the line for registration requirements. This coming season, there are going to be new requirements mandated by federal legislation. We are now going to have a national screening program, which will be part of the entire screening program. Before, it was handled at the regional level. Now, it will be handled at the national level. We will mandate now that all of our officials do SafeSport training on an annual basis instead of two-year basis. We have no choice over that. That is legally mandated.
STRIPES: What was it like for you to receive the President’s Award at this year’s annual meetings?
DL: It was completely unexpected. It’s nice to know that my time has served constructively to make the game better. It’s the reason why I became involved and stay involved.
STRIPES: What were the biggest takeaways from the winter meetings, especially from an officiating standpoint?
DL: The biggest takeaway was that we really need to get the general membership better informed much more as partners in the retention and abuse issue. Over the last several years in particular, the abuse issue is the number one reason why they don’t want to continue or start officiating. While the abuse used to be verbal from the stands, the intensity and dehumanizing character of the language coming from the stands is increasing exponentially. It’s now also starting to become more physical abuse. That’s a line we cannot allow to be crossed.