PROVIDENCE, R.I. – As the national referee in chief, Dave LaBuda has attended and spoken at hundreds of officiating seminars over the years. Since each session is an essential part of the USA Hockey Officiating Education Program curriculum, officials of various levels of skill and experience are required to attend. As such, the level of enthusiasm and engagement can run the gamut for those in attendance.
But as he looked around the room inside the downtown Marriott hotel this weekend, LaBuda noticed something a little different. Each of the 200 USA Hockey officials who came here this weekend for the Advanced Officiating Symposium was here not because they had to be, they were here because they wanted to be.
“By being here this week you’ve demonstrated your commitment to game,” LaBuda told the officials who came here from 34 states to improve their own skills and their understanding of the game.
“Becoming an excellent official is not a destination but rather it’s a journey. And that journey continues here today.”
Like many things in life, the journey was delayed due to the uncertainty during a global pandemic. But during the year, the USA Hockey officiating program was able to overcome and adapt to the challenging times by connecting with their members through online seminars and weekly Zoomcasts.
But after a year of Zoom calls and video chats, there’s nothing like being together again in person. In addition to having a chance to meet new people and renew old friendships, officials were able to ask questions about the new USA Hockey playing rules that will go into effect this season. Whether each official agreed with every new rule, they all left with a better understanding of why each new rule was adopted and how it will impact the game so they can take that information back to their local associations and answer questions and address concerns prior to the start of the season.
“The timing could not have been any better, especially during a rule change year,” said Nick Zaglifa, the supervisor of officials in Maryland for the past six seasons.
“Now we have 10 other officials in my area who heard the same things that I heard this week and now they can all go home and spread that word and explanation of the new rules instead of local officials hearing from the same people all the time.”
The three-day celebration of all things in stripes was also an opportunity for USA Hockey to thank those grassroots officials for the dedication they’ve shown to the game while helping them achieve “tenured” status, which brings with it reduced registration requirements and fees.
The weekend featured a stable of some of the most notable American whistleblowers in the game, including current and former NHL officials such as Chris Rooney, Paul Stewart and Brian Murphy, mixed in with a diverse group of presenters ranging from Olympic officials Don Adam and Jessica LeClerc to Mark Rudolph, the founding father of the USA Hockey officiating program.
“It’s fun to be back in the hockey world and talking about hockey again,” LeClerc said. “We certainly missed that.”
Their presentations touched on variety of topics ranging from establishing rapport with coaches to proper positioning to knowing the difference between hope and courage when it comes to making the right call on the ice.
They shared their own experiences about reaching the top, sprinkling in humorous stories about life in the trenches while leaving the room with a message of humility, integrity and paving the way for the next generation to achieve their goals.
More than the talk about positioning and trusting what officials see on the ice, the biggest takeaway after such a tough year was that officials were able to get back together and enjoy each other’s company while sharing their passion for the game and their profession.
“This forum here this weekend really shows what a great group of people we are as a whole,” LeClerc said. “We can bring together people from 34 different states into a room and all of a sudden we’re all best friends.”
Coming on the heels of the first symposium in Minneapolis in 2019, this year’s event was pretty much what everybody needed to shake off the past and look forward to a new season.
“It’s been great to get back together and celebrate the game and the role that officials have in it,” said Matt Leaf, USA Hockey’s director of the officiating.
“The presenters have been outstanding and we’ve had a passionate group of participants who are here for the right reasons. They want to learn and get better. Overall, it’s been a great weekend.”