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As officiating has faced a myriad of challenges in recent years, it’s become more important than ever to identify and prepare referees for competition through education and hands-on experience.
USA Hockey has taken the lead on developing young officials through its Officiating Development Camps, held each summer in various locations across the United States. Futures Camp, High Performance Camp, Officiating Program of Merit and Sled Hockey Futures Camp are four programs the national governing body of the sport offers to its current and prospective officials. Learn more HERE.
Patrick “Duffy” Dyer, camp director for various USA Hockey summer camps, who has been involved in similar programs for more than 25 years, shared some insight into the mission of these programs, as well as how they prepare officials for competition at all levels of the game.
USA Hockey: What are the goals of the USA Hockey official development camps?
Duffy Dyer: Broadly speaking, we want to prepare officials for their future. This can be different for each individual. Some participants strive to move on to junior, minor, professional or international hockey. A number of American officials in the NHL worked their way through the USA Hockey ODC. Each camp has a specific mission. Futures Camp focuses heavily on education, utilizing basic USA Hockey officiating techniques to manage games across the various levels of USA Hockey. The High-Performance Camp takes officials with an excellent understanding of the basic principles of USA Hockey officiating and introduces these officials to advanced techniques designed to position officials to manage games at the junior, NCAA and professional levels. The Program of Merit focuses on high-level instruction surrounding the mental function needed on and off the ice to officiate international and professional hockey. Advanced on-ice techniques are also taught.
USA Hockey: Are these camps about education or evaluation or both?
Dyer: Evaluation is a cornerstone of education. At all camps, instructor staff are continually evaluating participants, ensuring participants are learning the materials. When staff notices a breakdown, they evaluate and re-teach as indicated. We make sure the participants truly learn and execute presented materials.
USA Hockey: Who can attend these camps?
Dyer: Futures Camp participants are generally 18-28 years of age and hail from all over the U.S. We have futures camps around the country, with four camps focusing on male officials and one camp focusing exclusively on female officials. These camps allows for some regionalization based on location, but the first priority is to get an official to a camp. High Performance Camp has 18-24 officials who typically range in age from 20-30. Officials selected for the Program of Merit are selected based on merit.
USA Hockey: How do the camps help get officials ready for competition at all levels?
Dyer: Camps are run in conjunction with high-level player development camps. On the ice, our officials are exposed to high-level hockey which they may not experience during their regular season. Officials who improve areas identified as needing attention, while showing continuous improvement in their stronger areas, are well prepared for games at any level.
Officiating Development Camps have something for everyone. Come to a camp and take the information provided back to your local level. Share the information with local officials and watch the program grow.
USA Hockey: Are there examples of young referees who have gone through the program and gone on to officiate at the college, professional and international ranks?
Dyer: There are many. For example, Sean McFarlane, Nick Briganti and Jake Davis are current officials representing the U.S. at the IIHF Men's World Ice Hockey Championships. Each of these officials worked their way through the USA Hockey camp structure and went on to various combinations of junior, college, minor professional and international hockey, culminating in their most recent IIHF assignment. Bryan Pancich and Kilian McNamara are current NHL linesmen who attended USA Hockey camps, worked junior and minor professional hockey and now officiate in the National Hockey League. Jacqueline Zee Howard is working as a referee in the American Hockey League after attending USA Hockey camps and working many levels of hockey. Amanda Tassoni has also worked at a variety of levels, notably NCAA (including the 2018-19 Women's Frozen Four), the Premier Hockey Federation (including this year's Isobel Cup final), and the American Hockey League. Kendall Hanley's notable accomplishments include the 2021 Robertson Cup Championship (North American Hockey League), NCAA Divisions I and III, USHL, NAHL, and the American Hockey League.
USA Hockey: Where does USA Hockey get the instructors for the camps?
Dyer: All instructors are former camp participants who have moved to higher levels of officiating. The generation before them helped guide them and they in turn do the same.
USA Hockey: How are you personally involved in the program?
Dyer: I am involved as a camp director. I work primarily behind the scenes to make sure staff have what they need while acting as a liaison between various groups and the officiating program.
USA Hockey: What led you to get involved?
Dyer: In the 1990s, camps grew at such a rapid rate, USA Hockey found it necessary to add camp directors. At that time, I was a Supervisor of Officials for USA Hockey and was fortunate to be asked to come on board for my administrative skills.
USA Hockey: Would you recommend to other veteran officials that they participate in future camps as an instructor?
Dyer: I would approach this on a case-by-case basis. One of the biggest positives of the instructional staff is their experience at levels of hockey campers aspire to attain. There are veteran USA Hockey officials working various levels who have not been through the USA Hockey development process and do a fantastic job. Generally speaking, individuals missing a level would not be the highest priority for staff.
USA Hockey: What about the program brings you the most joy?
Dyer: As I travel around the country, I often reconnect or find connections with previous campers. It is so much fun to see what these individuals have progressed to in their on-ice and off-ice careers. Once in a while, I get to skate a game with them which is the icing on the cake.
USA Hockey: Are you training officials to be more resilient or to better handle things in the heat of the moment?
Dyer: The topic of interactions between players/coaches and officials comes up as a topic at every level from first-level officials to experienced officials attending the Program of Merit. USA Hockey encourages level-appropriate discussions surrounding these relationships whenever possible. In essence, the training is continuous.
USA Hockey: Do the camps and the development program as a whole make you more optimistic about the future of officiating?
Dyer: The interpersonal communication skills taught in the development program are transferable to any level and I think this is one area that has improved over my years of officiating. USA Hockey is committed to furthering interpersonal communication skills for coaches, players, and officials. This commitment makes me hopeful many of the record number of officials who registered in 2022-23 will continue on for many years in their officiating career.