The Indy Fuel might be new on the pro hockey scene, but the ECHL expansion franchise wasted little time immersing itself in the local youth hockey community.
Co-owners Sean Hallett (also CEO) and Jim Hallett (chairman) believed that growing the Fuel’s fan base and supporting the youth hockey community go hand in hand.
Through one season, both sides of that symbiotic relationship have delivered.
The Fuel ownership group started out with a commitment of providing $500,000 to local youth hockey associations over the next five years, and the even loftier goal of helping double youth participation in the area over the next decade.
“I think many people would say that it’s very ambitious, but there are some passionate people that love the sport that are in Indianapolis,” said Lee Dicklitch, the Fuel’s vice president of operations and fan experience. “We’re very fortunate in that regard. We’re still so new, an organization still in our inaugural season, so we’ve got a lot to learn, a lot to continue to grow upon. We’re trying to do a better job researching, and comparing ourselves to other teams out there, the other ECHL teams, AHL teams and NHL teams [and how they interact with their local youth scenes]. That’s still a work in progress.”
The money that they’re pledging comes from a 50/50 split-the-pot raffle that the Fuel have at every home game. There is also a between-periods promotion where a youth player takes a shot from center ice at a small opening covering the net, and if the player scores, he or she will earn an additional $50,000 for the local youth programs.
“We do a shoot-the-puck promotion similar to what the Blackhawks do, since they’re our NHL affiliate,” Dicklitch said. “We kind of took a page out of their book in terms of a tradition that’s been around for many years, and then we put our own twist on it. If that kid would hit the shot, we would donate $50,000 on behalf of the Indy Fuel to Central Indiana Youth Hockey. We do those things every night, along with the split-the-pot 50/50.”
Another way in which the Fuel has engaged with the youth hockey community is by designating one youth team per home game to be showcased, and a player on that team skates out on the ice before the game to plant the Fuel’s racing flag.
The club’s efforts are appreciated.
“They’re trying real hard to make that connection with the youth leagues,” acknowledged Mark Schumacher, the mites coach-in-chief of the local Coliseum Youth Hockey League. “Their mites-on-ice program, where they have mite players come out and play on the ice between periods, I think, has been a big success. We’ve done it multiple times. I think one time was with the Hanson brothers, which was kind of a riot, and then just last week, we did it and John Harrington, from the 1980 U.S. Olympic Team, was in attendance.”
Schumacher’s home rink is right next door to the Indiana Farmers Coliseum, where the Fuel play, and even that proximity has likely helped spark some interest as well.
"Just being right next door to their arena, I think the fact that they’ve played games at times when we’ve had practices and such, you’ve had adults and kids go by our arena when we’ve been active, and I think their mere presence has been real good from that standpoint,” Schumacher said. “You can park your car, walk by our youth arena and go to the Coliseum and peek in there and see us practicing on Wednesday nights, and they’ve had a few Wednesday night games.”
There have also been promo videos played on the arena’s video boards at games urging fans to get involved in youth hockey.
“I know they’ve put USA Hockey videos up on the board during the pregame and maybe even between periods,” added Schumacher. “They weren’t necessarily promoting our league specifically, but just another way to talk about youth hockey in front of thousands of people.”
Every little bit helps and has been important in connecting the Fuel with the area’s youth hockey scene. So far it’s working great.
“It’s the moms and dad that come out, and the kids will help carry the signs,” Dicklitch said, “and we try to make sure that we’re involving them, hopefully in a dynamic way, that a lot of the kids have a great experience, stay involved and then continue to follow the Fuel in the future — because those are the kids that we’ll need to support us, and when they grow up and they have kids, we hope they’re big Fuel fans.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.
Photos provided by Lee Dicklitch.
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.