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USA Hockey Officials Reflect on Their Path to Sochi

By USA Hockey, 01/14/14, 2:00PM MST


This February, seven American officials will represent USA Hockey at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia. These seven officials embody the commitment and professionalism required to represent their country at the highest level of international competition,

Name (Position: Leagues) - Hometown
Erin Blair (Referee: NCAA) - Lisle, Ill.
Tommy George (Linesman: AHL and NCAA) - Monrovia, Md.
Alicia Hanrahan (Linesman: NCAA) - South Saint Paul, Minn.
Laura Johnson (Linesman: NCAA) - Rochester, N.Y.
Andy McElman (Linesman: NHL) - Algonquin, Ill.
Ian Walsh (Referee: NHL) - Philadelphia, Pa.
Chris Woodworth (Linesman: AHL) - Rochester, N.Y.

As we prepare to drop the puck in Sochi, USA Hockey asked each official to briefly comment on their expectations of the event and reflect on the development path they traveled to get there.

What does it mean to you to be an Olympic official?

Tommy George: Since I began officiating, I dreamed about officiating in the NHL and the Olympics. To be able to achieve one of those dreams is surreal. There were many years of hard work and dedication, a lot of nights on the road working various leagues. To have all the hard work pay off in the end in this way is the icing on the cake.

There have been so many people who have sacrificed their time, wisdom, and expertise to help me become a better official in the last 16 years of my life. My parents, my fiance, friends, fellow officials...the list goes on and on. While this goal is a personal accomplishment, it's so great to be able to share the excitement with those same people.

Erin Blair: To me, being an Olympic official comes with great honor and responsibility. I feel a sense of responsibility to represent the people who have helped me get to this point. First and foremost, USA Hockey has dedicated many hours of training to develop me as an official. Additionally, the NCAA, the Illinois Hockey Officials Association and the Amateur Hockey Association of Illinois have provided me with continued opportunities to persue this dream.

Finally, my family and friends have sacrificed so much to allow me to strive for this goal. I am trully greatful to all who have supported my endeavor for the last 14 years. It is beacuase of this that being an Olympic official means the world to me. The support and encouragement I have received to get here can never be repaid.

Laura Johnson: Six years ago, being an Olympic official was just a dream that seemed impossible and yet reachable at the same time. Those years were very challenging and filled with hard work as I sought to improve myself and be mentally and physically ready for this moment.

I feel so fortunate to be able to participate in the games and to experience all that the Olympics stand for. I recognize this as a personal achievement and I am fully aware of the significant responsibility I have to do my absolute best on the ice and to be a good teammate to my fellow oficials so we ensure fair competition.

What was it about officiating that made you decide this is what you wanted to do, and establish goals to reach this level?

Alicia Hanrahan: I feel in love with this sport as an adult, and when opportunities started opening up, I realized how far I could take this. I've never looked back. 

Andy McElman: Officiating was something that I always strived to get better at. It is a profession that continues to evolve as the sport grows. It keeps my interest at every level of the sport. The game challenges you during every game, every period, every drop of the puck. These are just a few items that keep me striving to do my best.

Chris Woodworth: I have been hooked since I first started when I was 13 years old. The NHL and Olympics were always goals I had in the back of my mind, so getting this assignment is very important to me. I view officiating as a sport and not a job, and I take it seriously. Having long-term goals such as this assignment has given me the drive to work hard for many years, so being able to say I made it is proof that anything is possible if you work hard.

Ian Walsh: I've always enjoyed the challenge of learning and improving. Every game, every night presents a different challenge mentally and physically. I love the intensity of the game and the competitiveness of the players and officials in ice hockey.

What has been your most memorable officiating experience?

Ian Walsh: Being selected to work the Stanley Cup Playoffs and NHL Winter Classic in my hometown.

Erin Blair: My most memorable is the 2009 IIHF Under-18 Women's World Championships, due to the location. Fussen, Germany, is beautiful and the people were very welcoming. Being selected to work the USA-Canada final was the icing on the cake.

Andy McElman: Working the USA Hockey Junior A Nationals in Sioux City, Iowa, where it took two overtime periods to decide a winner; working my first NHL playoff game in Dallas, Texas, where the intensity was something I'd never experienced before; and working the NHL Winter Classic at Wrigley Field (Chicago, Ill.).

Laura Johnson: The tournaments I worked in China and Sweden were unique opportunities that gave me exposure to different cultures. What stands out the most is the camaraderie amongst the officials that seems to overcome all barriers related to nationality and language, and allows strong bonds and friendships to be formed by doing something that we all love to do.

Tommy George: Being assigned to work the 2013 NCAA Division I Men's national championship game in Pittsburgh, Pa., with my dad in attendance. Also working two Russia-Canada games at the 2013 IIHF Under-20 Men's World Championships in Ufa, Russia. The rivalry between those two countries is intense.

Alicia Hanrahan: Gold Medal game in the 2012 IIHF Women's Senior World Championships. I just turned 40, and my mother was there to share the experience.

Chris Woodworth: Working a Canada-Russia quarterfinal game in the World Junior tournament in Calgary, Alberta. I have never witnessed a louder, more energetic crowd, and the game itself was a wild one.

What advice would you give to officials who want to achieve the highest levels of officiating?

Laura Johnson: Seek comments on your performance and be willing to listen and make adjustments. Set goals and be determined, not discouraged.

Tommy George: Shoot for your dreams. Set long-term (three-, five-, and 10-year) goals for yourself, and then set short-term goals for each season. If you're acheiving the short-term goals each season, you should be moving in the right direction of those long-term goals.

Alicia Hanrahan: Follow your heart. Work every level to gain all levels of experience, and don't give up because the reward is an awesome feeling.

Andy McElman: Take pride in what you bring on the ice each and every game, whether it's a mite game or the Olympics. The game of ice hockey deserves it.

Chris Woodworth: Take each game one at a time and work on perfecting your game. By setting goals, you are creating a road map that can ultimately get you to the desired end result.

Ian Walsh: Ask questions and listen when working with senior partners. Have respect for the game and your fellow officials. Have a great attitude and be humble as this job is tough but there are none more rewarding.

Erin Blair: Always give your best effort, and take advantage of every opportunity graciously. Nobody can ask more of you if you are always trying hard and giving 100 percent. Along with hard work and dedication come great opportunities.
USA Hockey is proud to have these officials representing us and our country in Sochi. We wish them the best of luck during the tournament and look forward to watching them set the bar for the next group in 2018.