One night in 2011, Knoxville Amateur Hockey Association House Program Director Tom O’Brian and coach Randy Wolfenbarger were “kicking around” ideas about doing something different for the boys in KAHA.
The end result was Hockey Night in Knoxville, an event that was held for the second time on Feb. 9 at the Icearium in West Knoxville.
“We started thinking it would be nice to give the kids a different experience, like skating out under spotlights,” O’Brian said. “We were trying to give the kids an NHL experience.
“We’re in a small rink and we’re not in a hotbed of hockey.”
The first Hockey Night in 2012 was an unqualified success with over 1,200 people in attendance. What made the second annual Hockey Night in Knoxville even more special was the fact it celebrated the 50th anniversary of the association.
“[Hockey Night] was a big part of our celebration,” O’Brian said. “Nobody would ever think hockey would be in east Tennessee for 50 years. Everybody is shocked when they know we’ve been around for 50 years. We’ve even had kids who’ve gone on to become coaches.
“Compared with Boston and Buffalo, it’s an accomplishment. The fact that we’ve had volunteers who built this program and kept it alive is a great testament to the game and our program.”
The goal of Hockey Night in Knoxville, which features a series of fast-paced games, is to continue to drive awareness of the KAHA programs, to encourage membership, to recognize players’ achievements and to celebrate passion for the sport of ice hockey.
“It’s about keeping our player retention high,” O’Brian said.
Admission is free, but the association prints tickets that their players distribute to their friends at school and in their respective neighborhoods.
“It’s a way for them to say, ‘We play hockey so come and watch us,’” O’Brian said.
When players walk into their locker room, one of the first things they see is a magnetic strip on each locker, which includes the player’s number.
Players also receive a “goodie bag” that contains a towel with the KAHA logo, a sticker for their helmets and assorted hockey-related items donated by USA Hockey.
“USA Hockey sent different things that helped make the night a success,” O’Brian said. “Our local Pepsi company distributed Gatorade bottles that were just like the ones NHL players get.
“Then, the players skated out from the bench and were introduced. The national anthem was played before each game.”
Hockey Night consists of one Mite game, two Squirt games and three Peewee/Bantam games.
“Our youngest kids play cross-ice games, which are part of USA Hockey’s American Development Model,” O’Brian said. “The only variation we made for Hockey Night was that, while our Mite players use [cross-ice] during the regular season, this night we play a full-ice game just to let them have this experience. But normally they do play cross-ice games.
“We do everything we can to attract players. It’s easy for kids to dribble a soccer ball and a basketball. But hockey’s a different game. Different skill sets are involved. Kids have to learn stick handling and shooting. Our kids know they’re playing a different sport and it brings a cool camaraderie.”
Hockey Night in Knoxville also involves a “fashion statement.”
“Both years we asked our coaches to dress in a coat and tie and all of them complied,” O’Brian said. “This year we asked our kids to dress like that and they did. Almost all of them came in with this look of excitement on their faces, especially our Mite level kids who knew they were coming in to play a game on that night.
“Our volunteer staff put nice touches in the lobby which was decorated. And there was that anticipation in the locker room … the overall excitement of the kids.”
Not surprisingly, everything that’s gone into making Hockey Night in Knoxville a success didn’t happen in an eye blink.
“There were months of work that went into this and, eventually, the games could be played,” O’Brian said. “I’m blessed with people in our program that put in the time and effort. And I can’t say enough about our hockey director, K.J. Voorhees. For every kid who comes through our program, this could be the first time they’ve played hockey and they think K.J. is their best friend.
“As for me, the satisfaction came from seeing the puck drop, because then the work was done and we could sit back and watch the games.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.
Although the COVID-19 pandemic is still a reality, the USA Hockey Officiating Program is looking forward to getting everyone back on the ice in what will likely become the “new normal.”
As we get closer to minimizing the effect the virus has had on our everyday lives, the successful completion of our USA Hockey National Tournament series and the IIHF Under-18 World Championships is a promising indication that hockey is back and will be better than ever for the 2021-22 season.
As early player registrations mirror those trends from prior to the pandemic, the following is some information as to what officials should expect over the summer months and for the start of next season.
SUMMER DEVELOPMENT CAMPS AND ADVANCED SYMPOSIUM ARE BACK!
The Summer Development Camp Program is being downsized slightly as some facilities are still not available this summer, but we have latched onto the USA Hockey Player Festivals to be able to provide a quality development experience for those officials who qualify.
The Advanced Officiating Symposium is scheduled for early August in Providence, Rhode Island. USA Hockey is working closely with the host hotel to maximize participation while still adhering to state and local COVID-19 restrictions. The goal is to be able to accommodate everyone interested in attending this one-of-kind get together of top ice hockey officials in a dynamic and engaging program.
USA Hockey is in the midst of our quadrennial rule changes process, meaning there will be an updated 2021-2025 version of the Playing Rules Book prior to the start of the season.
Although the fundamental structure of the game will not change, there are several rule changes likely to be adopted that will require officials to pay attention to their rule knowledge and commit to the proper application of the rules. Officials will play a major role in USA Hockey’s efforts to improve the culture of body checking and, in return, officials will be provided more support through organizational initiatives to curb abuse of officials and unsportsmanlike behavior.
REGISTRATION JUNE 1
Officials registration for the 2021-22 season will open on June 1. However, since the updated playing rules will not be adopted until the USA Hockey Annual Congress in mid-June, hard copies of the 2021-25 Officials Playing Rules and Casebook will not be available until early August. A summary of the adopted rule changes and a PDF version of the updated rulebook should be available relatively soon after the Annual Congress. As a result, the open book exam, online module curriculum and seminar program will become available during the week of June 21.
One of the outcomes of the pandemic was it required us to take a hard look at our seminar program and make significant adjustments to best prepare our membership for success on the ice. Officials should look for the re-introduction (local restrictions permitted) of the in-person level 1 and level 2 seminars, with the level 1 format returning to an all-day seminar experience. The level 1 standardized seminar curriculum will include the online module curriculum as part of this experience in an effort to streamline their registration process. Level 2 officials will experience a half-day in-person seminar which will include an ice session.
The virtual “zoom” classroom seminar appears to be here to stay for level 3 and level 4 officials, even though some areas may choose to also provide in-person seminars for our most experienced team members. Either way, the goal is to be able to accommodate the needs of all of our officiating members with options that provide flexibility and efficiency. The online module curriculum for level 3 and level 4 officials is also being modified to streamline their registration process without compromising the educational value.
The level 2-3-4 closed book exams will also follow a modified format like last season where they will be able to complete the exam online within seven days of the seminar they attend. It is important to note these modified closed book exams will still be timed, so they must be completed in one sitting.
ADAPTING THE BEST WE CAN
The final thing to expect for the 2021-22 season? There will likely still be some restrictions and protocols that must be followed in certain local areas. The game may not look exactly like it did at the start of the 2019-20 season. Although we do not expect any full-fledged shutdowns as happened during the 2020-21 season, we will still need to be diligent and follow local guidelines in order to keep our game and its participants safe and on the ice.
USA Hockey is excited about the opportunity to get everyone who was involved prior to the pandemic safely back on the ice. There is also huge growth potential as people feel more comfortable to get back into daily life and look for new ways to engage. There is no reason why hockey cannot be that avenue where everyone is welcomed, included and encouraged in a way that a lifelong passion for the game is nurtured.
USA Hockey thanks you for your continued support and your involvement in our programs.
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