COLORADO SPRINGS – Leave it to Frank Serratore to cut to the chase. Sitting on a panel with fellow college coaches Dean Blais and Jerry York, the head coach of the U.S. Air Force Academy hockey team could only roll his eyes when Scott Paluch, the emcee for the evening, introduced the trio as combining for more than 1,600 wins at the college level. That number, at least in Serratorre’s view, was a little misleading.
“I won my 300th game at the Academy earlier this season,” said Serratore, who owns an impressive record of 342-369-71 in 21 seasons as a college head coach.
“The next day I went on U.S. College Hockey Online and there’s a big picture of
[Michigan coach] Red Berenson with the headline that said that he won his 800th game the same night. That kind of put it in perspective.”
While Serratorre may be a little too humble having turned the U.S. service academy into a hockey powerhouse in his 18 years at the Colorado Springs school, he was quick to point out the obvious that he was sharing the stage with two giants of the game.
York is the winningest coach in NCAA history with 984 victories at Clarkson University, Bowling Green State University and for the past 20 seasons with Boston College. And Blais is certainly no slouch with a career mark of 373-214-57, in addition to leading the 2010 U.S. National Junior Team to gold in Canada.
One thing all three coaches have in common, in addition to a lot of victories under their belts, is a desire to keep the game fun for their players. That message came through loud and clear Tuesday night during a discussion with 60 top youth hockey, high school and Junior coaches who are attending the High Performance Symposium this week, sponsored by USA Hockey and the U.S. Olympic Committee.
Having coached some of the best players and the top teams in the country over the past five decades, York obviously knows how to develop talent, and how to win. And creating robotic hockey players who aren’t allowed to think for themselves is not part of his coaching curriculum.
“We try to teach a lot of creativity,” said York, who has won five NCAA titles. “The game has become more structured, but we can get too paranoid with where a player needs to stand and what they need to do. Then it’s not a game all of a sudden.
“It’s not football where when you have the ball you’re on offense and when you don’t have the ball you’re on defense. In our sport you have the puck [and then] you don’t have the puck. If you can’t be creative and develop that with your players you’re going to have robots out there. We have to teach creativity and keep the game fun, because it’s a terrific game. You can’t spoil it by overcoaching.”
As the game has changed over the years, so too has Blais’s approach to coaching. A self-described yeller and a screamer during his days at the University of North Dakota, Blais has taken on a different philosophy of getting his players to play hard at the University of Nebraska-Omaha. And the proof was on display this season as he led the Mavericks to its first Frozen Four appearance.
“I was guilty for a lot of years of being so negative,” Blais admitted. “Now it’s ‘good shot’ or ‘good pass’ and having a smile on your face because the kids really respond to that. And I’m having more fun with my players right now then I ever have.”
For Serratore, being on the seemingly short end of the recruiting stick due to the Academy’s high standards and a five-year commitment waiting for players after their college careers are done, his job is to make the Falcons the hardest-working team on the ice. He does this in part, by implementing a lot of small area games into his practices.
“The college season is a long season and it doesn’t take long before the boys get sick of old Uncle Frank and his drills,” Serratore said.
“When we play small area games, the guys love it. You know they’re going to compete and they’re going to maintain their fitness level. Just a lot of good things happen. The residual effect is that they pick up things on how to play an unstructured style. Basically, it’s like the pond hockey we played when we were kids.”
If the coaches in the room were to take anything away from the discussion, Serratore hopes they will let their players play and have fun with it. They may just be surprised at the results.
“It’s important that you coaches at the youth hockey level are doing the right thing so that when those kids get to our level they have that foundation for the game and the hockey sense and that they haven’t been overcoached as youth,” he said.
“How do you become a great puck-carrying defenseman if you’re not allowed to make a mistake with the puck as a youngster?
“These are conversations that we’ve had over the past 20 years, so what we’re talking about tonight and this week is nothing new. There’s nothing to be taught, but more just being reminded of doing what’s right.”
And if parents want to know how to help their own son and daughter reach the college level, perhaps they could take a little grandfatherly advice from Blais.
“I see my hockey players play basketball I can go out and beat all of them. There’s not a lot of athletic ability anymore because they all want to focus on just playing one sport,” he said as part of a simliar reminder he makes to his own family members.
“When the season is over, it’s time to put the hockey skates away and leave it alone a little bit.”
Even with almost 50 years of involvement in hockey, you can’t plan for the current state of the world and the impact coronavirus has had on our game. I think it is safe to say that nothing prepares you for the changes that have taken place in our daily lives and the uncertainty of when things might return to normal. Or in this case, what will become the new “normal.”
Our expertise is hockey, so what we’ll address in this piece: the impact of the global pandemic on our game and how likely it will affect our game in the immediate future.
USA Hockey continues to post information on COVID-19 on the main website. These updates keep our membership informed of specific programs and the changing safety recommendations that will be in place when hockey returns. Be sure to check back regularly for updates and other hockey information.
On the officiating front, much of what we are able to do from a program standpoint is connected to player events like national tournaments and player development camps. As you know, the national tournaments (along with the March, April and May IIHF World Championship events) were cancelled. The Officiating Program then canceled our two instructor training programs that were planned for late April and early May in Lake Placid, N.Y., and Colorado Springs, Colo.
At this time, details for any potential summer development camps are still being determined. On the player side, several camps we are connected to were cancelled, and the few camps that are still in planning have been dramatically downsized. The Officiating Program continues to monitor the decisions made for players and will take advantage of any opportunity we have to salvage our summer camp program and maximize participation.
The good news is, we are confident we will have a 2020-21 season. All indications show no reason to delay registration. It will open as scheduled on or around May 26, followed by the open book exams and online seminar curriculum on June 1.
SafeSport Training (required for anyone born in the year 2003 or earlier) and background screening (learn about the new national level screening program in the Q & A section) will also be available to complete at that time. If COVID-19 still has things slowed down in early June, it would be an ideal time to get these requirements completed.
The biggest unknown will be the timing in which we will be able to conduct seminars. The vast majority of rinks are currently closed, and many of them took this opportunity to remove ice to save operating costs and do maintenance. There is now doubt they will be prepared to quickly ramp up once they are allowed to do so, but as with most everything right now, the timing is uncertain. As a result, some of the earlier seminars may be pushed back a few weeks. The District Referees-in-Chief will secure ice times and facilities so we can provide seminar dates and locations as quickly as possible. We are also encouraging our instructors to think outside the box by providing some weeknight seminar options, and to look at other ways to best meet the needs of our members.
The Advanced Officiating Symposium, scheduled for Providence, R.I. in late July, is still going to plan. We will continue to monitor the situation, including local restrictions and travel advisories in the coming weeks, and we will announce any changes in advance to allow for alterations to travel arrangements. Click here for up-to-date information or to reserve your seat at the 2020 Advanced Officiating Symposium.
These are difficult times for everyone, and although our hockey family is important to us, it is a small fraction of the big picture that is impacting our daily lives. To quote Andy Dufresne in his letter for Red that he left under the big oak tree in The Shawshank Redemption: “Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.”
We hope you and your loved ones are safe and healthy. We hope the coronavirus is conquered with minimal loss of lives and a return to a prosperous normal as soon as possible. We hope your passion for the game of hockey will only grow as a result of its absence. We hope we are back on the ice in the coming months and that the 2020-21 season will be our best yet.
Thank you for your continued support of USA Hockey and don’t hesitate to contact us if there is anything we can do to make your hockey experience a better one. In the meantime, stay safe, stay healthy and be prepared to be back on the ice soon.
In order to comply with new requirements from the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee (USOPC), USA Hockey will be implementing a national level background screening program. This program will replace all USAH Affiliate coordinated background screen programs.
Why must officials be screened?
Per USA Hockey and USOPC policy, all coaches, officials, board members, employees, volunteers, billets and anyone else who will have regular contact with, or authority over, minor athletes are required to submit a background screen before any contact with minor athletes.
Who is required to be screened?
Officials who are 18 years-old (or older) prior to June 1 of the current year.
Any official, 18 years-old (or older) without a completed valid background screen (national or USAH Affiliate coordinated) after April 1, 2019.
All national background screens are valid for two seasons, and starting on June 1, 2020 a national background screen must be completed and in good standing before receiving an officiating card and crest.
What are the timelines for launching the national background screen program?
Beginning on April 1, 2020, background screening will be conducted by our national background screen vendor, National Center for Safety Initiatives (NCSI), and information on background screening will be included following your registration.
As of March 22, 2020, applicants will no longer be able to submit new USA Hockey background screens through USAH Affiliate vendors, and will not be able to submit new screens through NCSI until April 1, 2020.
If you were screened after April 1, 2019 for the 2019-20 season, your screen is valid for the 2020-21 season, and you will not need to be screened under the new system until prior to the 2021-22 season. If your most recent screen is from prior to April 1, 2019, you will need to be screened under the new system, after April 1, 2020, in order to participate in the upcoming season.
All new screens submitted through the new NCSI national screening program after April 1, 2020 will be valid for two seasons. For example, a screen submitted and approved on April 15, 2020 will be valid through the end of the 2021-22 season, which is August 31, 2022.
How can members complete their required background screen?
A link to submit for screening will be included in your membership registration confirmation email and posted in the drop-down menu under the OFFICIALS tab at USAHockey.com.
Background screens through NCSI under the national program will cost $30 for all domestic screens. For international screens (members who have lived outside of the U.S. for six consecutive months in any one county during the past 7 years) the flat rate fee is $150. If that country is solely Canada, the flat rate fee is $75.
Where can members go with questions about the national background screen program?
Please refer to the USA Hockey Background Screen webpage at USAHockey.com.