The 2014-15 season is on pace to include a record number of players according to data shared with the USA Hockey Board of Directors at its annual winter meeting at the Renaissance SeaWorld Hotel in Orlando last weekend.
The overall number of players in a year-over-year comparison as of early January is up by more than two percentage points and that number is expected to hold for season-ending numbers, which will be available in June.
“Our goal is to be the best youth sports option in communities all across the country and I think our on-going focus on safety and age-appropriate development is one that parents recognize and is paying dividends on multiple fronts, inclusive of growing the game,” said Dave Ogrean, executive director of USA Hockey. “And with the great programs in adult hockey, we’re thrilled the number of adult players engaged with USA Hockey continues to rise as well.”
Also revealed at the meeting was a new Club Excellence program being developed to support volunteers of local youth hockey programs nationwide. The concept is, in part, modeled after an in-person resource fair conducted by the Wisconsin Amateur Hockey Association last summer. The centerpiece of the program will be the Power Play web portal, which will provide a centralized website for volunteers to access training and information related to their duties within their organization. It is intended that most elements of the Club Excellence program, including the Power Play web portal, will be in place by the spring of 2016.
“I’m really excited about our Club Excellence project,” said Ron DeGregorio, president of USA Hockey. “We’ve done a lot for our players, coaches and officials in using technology to improve education and it’s terrific that we’re moving ahead enhancing those areas for our volunteer leaders all across the country. We believe we have the best volunteers of any youth sport and this is an effort to help streamline resources for them without reducing standards.”
Another topic that received significant attention was the importance of teaching the body-checking components that are part of the American Development Model curriculum. Guy Gosselin, one of USA Hockey’s ADM regional managers, outlined the four key areas of teaching body-checking during one of the Town Hall sessions, including:
“When our Board modified the allowable age for body-checking in games back in 2011, it was done as part of the Progressive Checking Skill Development Program,” said Kevin McLaughlin, senior director of hockey development for USA Hockey. “That goes from kids getting used to body contact at the younger age levels, to teaching body-checking at the peewee level in practice and then full body-checking in games at the bantam level. It’s important that our programs across the country are utilizing this curriculum as part of the recommended practice structure and I think it’s something everyone feels like we can do a much better job with.”
McLaughlin also noted that much progress continues to be made in the implementation of age-appropriate curriculum at all age levels as part of the ADM.
It was also reported that the USA Hockey Foundation’s It Starts With a Stick campaign raised nearly $100,000 in its first year. The program, which was a month-long effort in December that included donations from hockey fans across the country, as well as a number of NHL players, raised money to put sticks in the hands of kids trying the game for the very first time Feb. 21 during USA Hockey’s national Try Hockey for Free Day, presented by Kraft. The day is part of the 8th annual Hockey Weekend Across America celebration set for Feb. 20-22, presented by CCM.
“We’re extremely pleased with the results in our first year,” said Pat Kelleher, assistant executive director of development for USA Hockey. “We’ll be able to put a stick in the hands of approximately 7,500 kids in February, which we think will help in helping kids develop a passion for the game.”
Attendees also learned about USA Hockey's partnership with Kraft Hockeyville, a program that seeks to find America's most passionate hockey town. Nominations are currently being accepted and a total of 10 finalists will be named in April. All total, $425,000 in funding for arena upgrades will be awarded among the finalists, including $150,000 to the winner. In addition, the winning community will have the chance to host an NHL pre-season game that will be televised nationally by NBC Sports Network
NOTES: Ron DeGregorio presented the President’s Award to four individuals, including John Vanbiesbrouck, vice president of USA Hockey and chair of the Junior Council; Tom Branden, chair of the USA Hockey Registrars Section; Pat Kelleher, assistant executive director of development for USA Hockey; and Cameron Eickmeyer, director of internet content and development for USA Hockey … The 2015 USA Hockey Annual Congress will be held in Colorado Springs, Colorado, June 3-6.
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.