Who, just who, could say no to Josh Sweeney?
Nobody. That’s who.
You can’t say no to such a compelling personality as Sweeney, a war hero and sled hockey champion who helped Team USA win Paralympic gold in 2014 in Sochi, Russia, and more recently a world championship this past May in Buffalo, New York.
So when the decorated former Marine sergeant (now retired) shows up at your door to enlist your help in establishing a sled hockey team in his adopted hometown of Portland, Oregon, there’s only one thing you can say.
And it’s with the help of USA Hockey, Labatt Blue, the Portland Winterhawks, the National Hockey League Players Association and others that Sweeney is well on his way to icing such a team, one he hopes will compete in a yet to be formed Western U.S. sled hockey loop.
Sweeney, not surprisingly, is tackling this mission as any good sergeant would, with Marine-like efficiency.
“I felt like Portland was important if we were to get a Western sled hockey league going,” said Sweeney, who relocated last year from San Antonio to Portland, where his wife, Amber, has family.
“Since I was going to be moving up here anyway, I didn’t feel it would be right to play for a team that wasn’t where I lived. So I decided to get a team going.”
Sled hockey teams have been formed throughout the West Coast, from Alaska to Southern California and out to the Rockies. Portland has been a little behind the curve, having previously hosted the occasional sled hockey clinic, including one that Sweeney had participated in even before making the move north.
All that began to change when Sweeney hit town for good.
The first call went to Kelly Hayes, who serves as a USA Hockey representative for Oregon.
“I said, ‘I’d like to start a team in Portland.’” Sweeney said. “‘Was there something already going?’
“She said, ‘No. We [USA Hockey] have had the clinics in Portland before, but nothing really came of it because we didn’t have anybody driving it.’”
The next stop on his call list were the Winterhawks, a perennial major junior hockey power, whose reach into the Portland grassroots extends into youth and high school hockey.
Sled hockey hadn’t previously been part of the Hawks’ mission, but after hearing what Sweeney had to say, they quickly jumped aboard.
“As soon as I told them I was looking to start the program, they were super excited,” he said. “They definitely wanted to be a part of it and [said] that they were ready to support in any way they could.”
And the Hawks had plenty of support to lend.
“They added sled hockey as a section under their already established non-profit corporation [WAHA, as in Winterhawks Amateur Hockey Association],” Sweeney said. “That was huge. They had the facilities. They had the name.”
And they had the ability to cut through all that nettlesome legal red tape, the sort that can choke the life out of any worthy endeavor.
Thus the WAHA Sled Hockey Team was officially born.
“I told them I don’t know anything about anything,” Sweeney said, “but I know sled hockey. It was a huge weight off my shoulders, knowing they had that covered. I was just able to focus on [hockey].”
It was through the Winterhawks that Sweeney came upon NHLer and Portland native Paul Gaustad, a former Winterhawk now playing for the Nashville Predators.
Gaustad steered Sweeney toward the NHLPA and its Goals & Dreams program, which has doled out some $22 million to grassroots hockey and related causes since 1999.
Almost instantly, Sweeney found himself supplied with all sorts of hockey gear: helmets, pads, sticks and … sleds.
“Everything we would need to put 15 players on the ice,” Sweeney said.
Recruiting players to fill those sleds is the next task. Sweeney hopes to jump-start that process with a free “come try sled hockey” event on August 23 at Winterhawks Skating Center.
“We [want to] slowly build our base of players who come out consistently,” he said. “We’re excited.”
The serious on-ice work will come in October, when the players will begin practicing at Veterans Memorial Coliseum, where the Winterhawks play home games.
Meanwhile, Sweeney’s mission continues.
More meetings, more phone calls, more people to reach with the sled hockey gospel.
But when it’s Josh Sweeney on the line, you’re darned well going to answer.
“My role is basically as the face,” he said. “I will roll around and talk to different programs. The community has been great. I have had so much support from everybody I talk to. I think that it’s a huge part of building a team. Having a community behind you. It’s an ongoing process, and without that support it’s really hard to do.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.
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.