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Disabled Festival Celebrates A Decade Of Opportunity

By Harry Thompson - Editor, USA Hockey Magazine, 04/11/14, 7:45PM MDT

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USA Hockey Magazine Podcast with JJ O'Connor

MARLBOROUGH, Mass. – As he looks across the lobby at the New England Sports Center watching a stream of players and parents searching for their locker room assignments, J.J. O’Connor can only smile when he thinks about how far the USA Hockey Disabled Festival has come in such a relatively short amount of time.

“It’s hard to believe that 10 years has gone by so fast, but as they say ‘time flies when you’re having fun,’” says O’Connor, the chairman of USA Hockey’s Disabled Section.

“We’ve developed this festival into a grand event that everyone looks forward to.”

From its humble beginnings in 2005 with the first festival at the Great Lakes Sports City in Fraser, Mich., the Disabled Festival has come a long way. At the same time, it has held true to its goal of providing opportunities for players with various disabilities to enjoy the game.

More than 500 players competing in sled, special, amputee and hearing-impaired hockey programs faced off for a three-day festival that was more of a celebration than a competition.

Once confined to the sidelines, more disabled athletes are finding fun, friendship and a sense of belonging as they put their disabilities on ice. Creating programs like the Disabled Festival has given players from around the country an opportunity to not only compete but to get together under the USA Hockey banner.

“Every walk of life is here. That’s what makes it such a beautiful thing,” says O’Connor. “The goal is to create a grand event for people with disabilities to be able to enjoy the game of hockey. At the end of the day it’s not who wins or loses, it’s the fact that everyone gets to enjoy the game and have fun.”

There was no complaining about officiating, stressing out about wins and losses or whining about ice time. It was all about the opportunity to have fun playing the game they have come to love.

“I think we could all learn a lesson from these kids,” says Tom Brake, whose involvement with disabled hockey predates the first festival.

Not that the Disabled Festival doesn’t have a competitive side to it. For the fourth consecutive year the Festival features a National Sled Hockey Championship, with 13 of the 17 members gold-medal winning Paralympic Team competing for their local clubs.

“It’s definitely different playing against these guys. We haven’t faced each other since the last Disabled Festival,” says Declan Farmer, who got the better of his friend and linemate Brody Roybal as the Florida Bandits defeated the RIC Blackhawks, 6-3.

“Brody and I have a friendly rivalry. We’re friends on the ice but we always try to beat each other any time we’re on the ice together. It’s that way with all of us [Paralympians].”

Over the years the event has grown from 24 teams in 2005 to 54 this time around. Leading the charge has been the growth in the number of youth and adult sled hockey programs, which has been sparked by the success of U.S. Sled Hockey Teams at the Winter Paralympics.

Special hockey has also witnessed a surge in popularity as parents and physicians have discovered the act of being on the ice has helped people with autism, cerebral palsy and other disorders better integrate into society.

“I don’t think that our see differences [with other disabled hockey players],” says Amy LaPoe, the mother of a player on the Tomahawks special hockey team.

“You’re not focused on the fact that you can’t hear or you’re in a sled, you’re focused on playing hockey and having a lot of fun.”

A team from the American Hearing Impaired Hockey Association, which celebrated its 40th anniversary, took on local youth hockey teams, while the standing amputee division promises to be its most competitive competition to date.

Judging from the looks on the faces of those who converged on the New England Sports Center in Marlborough, Mass., for the tenth annual USA Hockey Disabled Festival in the spring, the fun is not limited to the ice. Not only are parents getting caught up in the action, those not even involved in the tournament can’t help but notice a positive energy that pervades the six-sheet facility that has hosted multiple USA Hockey events in the past.

“I use the word inspirational,” says Rick Fask, a Mass Hockey volunteer who is overseeing the festival. “It’s one of the most inspirational and rewarding things that I’ve ever done.”

A busy opening day was capped off with a special benefit game that pitted an all-star team of sled and standing amputee players, including Boston Marathon bombing victim, Mark Fucarile, took on the Boston Bruins alumni to kick off Friday night’s festivities that included a banquet and concert.

“This makes a world of difference for these kids. Not only can they play hockey, but this improves the quality of their lives in many ways,” says O’Connor.

“This is your chance to tell the world, ‘Just because I’m disabled doesn’t mean that I’m not a fantastic hockey player.’ ”

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Changes to the Registration Process for the 2022-23 Season

By USA Hockey 07/15/2022, 1:00pm MDT

Q-and-A with USA Hockey’s Director of Officiating Education Program Matt Leaf

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.

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