TORONTO – No gold, this time. But not much hand wringing, either.
Bent on successfully defending their World Sledge Hockey Challenge title won a year ago, Team USA had to settle for silver after falling to Team Canada, 3-1, in the WSHC championship game staged at The MasterCard Centre Saturday night.
“While we would have liked to get the 'W'”, said Team USA goaltender Steve Cash, “and get the Gold Medal, “we're just going to take things in stride. Sochi is the ultimate goal.”
The World Challenge was the team's first live competition since selection camp was held in July.
The result, Cash said, should be through the prism of a bigger picture, namely the 2014 Paralympics.
“We're not going to look too far and think this is a precursor to how things are going to look in Sochi,” said Cash. “We've got what it takes in the locker room, and I have the utmost confidence in all 17 of these guys. When the time comes, we'll be able to step it up and execute.”
Team USA entered the game missing two offensive stalwarts – forwards Rico Roman and Josh Sweeney – both of whom were attending their wives college graduations.
That firepower was missed as the US fell behind – falling behind 3-0 in the first period – and never fully recovered.
“We were that far away from making good plays,” said USA coach Jeff Sauer. “We were missing the puck. Not making shots when we had to. A little bit slow on the release of the puck to the net. But it all comes with confidence.
Canada grabbed the lead on Adam Dixon's goal at 9:03, then surged to a three goal lead on goals 33 seconds apart by Billy Bridges and Greg Westlake.
Dixon's goal came on a 40-foot right hand shot that hit off a defenseman found space under the cross bar.
“It was a point shot that was going to the back door,” said Cash. “Unfortunately it was tipped. I was going to make the save and it went underneath my arm pit. That's how it goes sometimes.”
Bridges' tally came from just off the right circle while Westlake, Canada's team captain, connected off a rush down left wing.
Team USA mustered just a half dozen shots in that period, and just one dangerous scoring chance, that in the final minute of the period from Josh Pauls on a centering pass from Nikko Landeros. Pauls, however, was thwarted by Canadian goalie Corbin Watson.
“We're not used to playing from behind,” said Sauer. “But the big thing is that there are not a lot of goals scored, either way. When you get down by two or three goals, it's tough to get back in it.”
Cash said there was no sense of panic felt in the dressing room during intermission.
“It was just a matter of keeping our heads up,” he said. “Knowing we were still in the game. The funny thing about hockey is that you're never really out of the game, unlesss it's 7-0 in the third period.”
The US managed to regroup in the second period, held Canada to just three shots (while recording six of their own) and crept back to within 3-1 on Pauls' unassisted tally at 5:51.
Pauls was in a tangle of players in front of the Canada goal, and was able to pop the puck in past Watson.
That, however was as good as it got.
The US was held to just one shot in the third period and was never able to mount a serious comeback.
The Referee Section of USA Hockey recently met during Annual Congress and discussed a variety of issues that will have an impact in the success of the officiating program. Many of those issues relate back to the successful completion of the registration requirements and the retention of officials.
Streamlining the registration process and maximizing the efficiency of our educational platforms are always a priority and the following Q-and-A will highlight those changes that every official should be aware of heading into the new season.
USA Hockey: What is the biggest change made to the registration requirements for this season?
Matt Leaf: With more and more seminars transitioning to a virtual format, the Referees-in-Chief (RIC) have determined that there really is no need for the closed book exams. So, level 2, 3 and 4 officials this season will no longer be required to submit a closed book (or modified online closed book exam) upon completion of the seminar requirement. Instead, the open book exams have been expanded to 75 questions for level 2 and 100 questions each for level 3 and level 4.
The RICs acknowledged that the purpose of the exams has always been as a means to encourage rule knowledge, so more effort was made to put together open book exam questions that will encourage the officials to open the Rules/Casebook in an effort to not only learn the rule, but more importantly, understand the spirit and intent of the rule.
USAH: Are there any other changes to the exam process
ML: The only other change to the exams deal with those who do not pass the original exam. Level 2, 3 and 4 officials will now be able to complete their retake exam 24 hours after failing their original exam. Level 1 officials will still need to wait seven days as we want them to slow down and take some time reviewing the rules so they can gain a better understanding and improve their chances for success on the ice.
USAH: What changes, if any, have been made to the seminars? Are all officials still required to attend a seminar each season?
ML: Yes, except for Tenured Officials, all officials are required to attend a seminar for the level that they apply for each season. So, a Level 1 official must attend a Level 1 seminar, Level 2 attends a Level 2 and then Level 3 and 4 seminars will be combined as one seminar in many cases.
Level 1 officials are strongly encouraged to attend a seminar in their own area and most areas will mainly conduct in-person Level 1 seminars. Although there will be some hybrid Level 1 seminars with both a virtual and in-person component, the key here is that every Level 1 official is required to attend a Level 1 seminar ice session. This may require some additional coordination of scheduling for these new officials, but the reality is this on-ice practice is so critical to any future success they may have on the ice that the RICs feel it is critical that the ice session is part of their educational experience.
Level 2 seminars will also include an on-ice component that Level 2 officials need to be aware of when they plan their seminar attendance. The vast majority of Level 3 and Level 4 seminars will be virtual and officials are encouraged to attend a seminar at a date and time that is convenient for them.
USAH: Have there been any changes to the curriculum for the various levels?
ML: The curriculum for each level was standardized prior to last season and is something that will continue to be updated on an annual basis. The specific presentations, along with the video examples, have all been developed in a manner that provides valuable information specific to each level with new presentations and updated video examples being used to keep things fresh and relevant. In addition, the seminar curriculum has been coordinated with the online modules to minimize duplication and to diversify the required education for each level.
USAH: How about SafeSport and Screening – any changes to those requirements?
ML: The background screening process will remain the same as USA Hockey is required to conduct a national screen every two years on any official who is 18 years of age as of June 1 of the registration year (in this case 2022). Both the background screen and the SafeSport training are mandated by the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC) per the Amateur Sports Act initiated by Congress.
For SafeSport, any official who was born in 2005, or earlier, is required to complete SafeSport training on a yearly basis. This may include the full training or refresher training that is managed by the US Center for SafeSport. Although it will not have an impact on registration for this season, there was a change in SafeSport that has been made where the training will only be valid for a 12-month period of time and it not consistent with an overlapping season. This will be addressed during the summer of 2023.
USAH: Are there any other changes or areas of emphasis that you want officials to be aware of?
ML: A significant part of the discussions that took place with the RICs focused on the importance mentoring plays in the success and, ultimately, the retention of brand-new officials. USA Hockey loses 50% of our new officials every season and improving that retention rate by just 15% will result in 1,000 additional experienced officials joining our ranks each year. We need to do a better job of bringing new officials into the fold and then supporting them in ways that sets them up for a successful and rewarding experience. The RICs feel strongly the best way to positively impact this issue is through mentoring.
Experienced officials should expect to receive information later this summer that outlines expectations of a formal Mentor Program and asking them to volunteer their time and expertise to become involved as a mentor. Once we have established a pool of officials that are willing to contribute in this way to the next generation of officials, they will be assigned a group of new officials they can reach out to and guide them through the registration process, seminar attendance, assistance in completing the open book exam and reaching out to prospective assignors when the time has come they are ready to work games. Once they have stepped on the ice, that mentor can continue to be a valuable resource for the new official and provide the necessary support needed to be successful. We will also be encouraging local clubs, assignors and officials’ groups to implement Shadow Programs that will complement the Mentor Program and positively enhance the officials’ experience even more.
With everyone working together towards a common goal, USA Hockey can become a leader in addressing the officiating crisis while providing a positive experience to our next generation of officials.