USA Hockey’s leadership and various volunteers traditionally gather in sunny Florida each January for the organization’s annual Winter Meetings. It’s an opportunity to evaluate the success of the previous year and to help set the course for the next 12 months and, perhaps, beyond.
The ongoing pandemic altered the event’s footprint from one location to hundreds of them, bringing everyone together virtually.
We recently reached out by phone to Dave LaBuda, USA Hockey’s national referee-in-chief, and Ken Reinhard, the Rocky Mountain District referee-in-chief, for their insights into the unique manner in which the 2021 Winter Meetings were conducted and what came out of them from an official’s perspective.
USA Hockey: The past year has been anything but typical in any way. What adaptations did USA Hockey make in order to conduct its 2021 Winter Meeting in the midst of a pandemic?
Dave LaBuda: Well, USA hockey and all of its volunteers in the field have been using the internet communications available to us to conduct the organization’s and the game’s business since the start of the pandemic. While it's thrown all of us varying levels of challenges, depending on one's technical abilities and skills, we've all managed to get through it. Hopefully, we see the light at the end of the tunnel and we can get back to our traditional in-person communications and meetings.
Ken Reinhard: While we had everybody available to participate … [the public] didn't have the input that they might have in an in-person meeting. We really didn’t have the interaction with those who may have questions or outlooks or insights that they want to ask about, simply because the logistics didn’t allow for that.
USAH: Were any changes made as a result of the meetings and what effect will they have on officials?
DL: Many of the discussions that went on during our virtual winter meeting were focused, in one way or another, around the organization's business and adapting to the current conditions that exist around the country. Because there's many varying protocols and restrictions around the country, we as an organization have had to really do our best to stay in tune with what's happening locally, and then adapt what we're trying to do to that local environment.
KR: We have four major states that were really encumbered by local orders. New York, Michigan, Illinois California were greatly impacted by not being able to play the game, which greatly impacted officials’ registration. We had to adapt and do some things that allowed these officials to get registered and see value for the dollars they spent for registering. We did that by extending the registration window and the timeframe for completion.
USAH: From an officiating standpoint, what did you hope to accomplish going into the Winter Meetings and how successful were you in achieving your goals?
DL: We discussed a number of initiatives and most of them focused around communication, both at the district level as well as the national level, to all officials who have registered with USA hockey but have not yet completed their registrations.
KR: It's hard to say how successful we were because we're still in the throes of it, right? Registration will not close now until March 24. So, we're still conducting seminars, we're still accepting registration applications, we're still processing open book tests, and since the Winter Meetings, we've had, I think, 650 or so additional registrations.
USAH: What were some of the hot-button issues that came up in the officiating portion of the Winter Meetings?
DL: The most obvious hot button issue is, of course, registration of officials and the completion rate. Because of the diversity of the ability to play games across the country, there are some places where officials simply looked at the environment and said, ‘Well, if there's no games being played, I don't see a reason to register.’ Well, the thing to remember, and that we're trying to remind officials about, is that while perhaps maybe the regular winter season may not happen, in all likelihood, a spring and a summer season will happen and we're still going to need those officials to officiate those games.
KR: When will we be able to play hockey? You know, the usual questions because of COVID. Once you get outside those questions, everything is normal. But the uncertainty of everything has cost us registration numbers. What we're going to be working on over the next three months is how we're going to encourage those officials that did not register to come back.
USAH: Looking back at last year’s Winter Meetings, what was accomplished there that you feel was well implemented over the course of the past year?
KR: We're always looking at how we register officials and how we educate officials so we started a video series called ZoomCast, which allowed officials to participate in productions involving members of the national office with special guests talking about various aspects of officiating. These were well attended and well received. It was the first time that we utilized that technology to reach out to officials beyond the typical seminar or officials’ ‘Question of the Week’ that is posted up on YouTube. The ZoomCast series was an incredible success.
USAH: A year from now, when you reflect back, what is the most important impact you hope this year’s Winter Meetings have on USA Hockey’s officials?
DL: We hope we've done all that we can for officials to continue their registration with USA hockey as on-ice officials, as I said earlier. The country is opening up to varying degrees with regards to allowing games to be played and, as the number of those games continues to expand, the need for officials will continue to grow. We were holding our own before the pandemic, in that we were able to meet the needs of the hockey world with officials, but this pandemic has really challenged us to be able to do that for at least this season.
KR: It just raises the issue that you have to be prepared for the unexpected. We tell that to officials all the time when they go on ice to referee the game, you always expect the unexpected so treat it like you expected it. When COVID was first upon us a year ago and we thought this thing would be gone by, you know, May, June and summer would take care of it—boy, were we surprised? And I think what comes out of this is that you have to be nimble, you have to be flexible and you really have to be able to adapt to the ever-changing environment.
Tag(s): Stripes Newsletter