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Game No. 1,000

By Miles McQuinn, 11/18/15, 3:15PM MST


Q&A with NHL Linesman Brian Mach

It’s likely that Oct. 30, 2015, isn’t a date that National Hockey League official Brian Mach will ever forget. When the puck dropped between the Minnesota Wild and Chicago Blackhawks at the Xcel Enegery Center in St. Paul, Minn., it signaled more than just the start of the game – it also signaled NHL game No. 1,000 for the 16-year veteran official, a feat never before achieved by a Minnesotan.

USA Hockey caught up with the Little Falls, Minn., native to hear first-hand what crossing the 1,000-game plateau really feels like.

USA Hockey: You were the last walk-on cut while trying out for the University of North Dakota. Why turn to officiating and not something like broadcasting, writing or driving the Zamboni to stay involved in hockey

Brian Mach:
 I'm still on the same playing field in the game. The blood, sweat and tears; the bumping and the grinding. My ultimate goal was to work the state high school hockey tournament in Minnesota and work the Western Collegiate Hockey Association. That was the big-ticket item for any Minnesota kid that got into officiating – that's your ultimate end game. We didn't know much more after that. We didn't know about the East Coast Hockey League, the American Hockey League and how that whole path worked.

USAH: What were some of the early challenges you faced in the professional ranks, starting in the ECHL?

 I really had no clue what I was stepping in to. I knew it was minor professional hockey but I had no ties. I had just finished school and I said 'hey, this is a good chance for me to spread my wings and see what's out there.' The first couple games I got out there, the players were bigger, older, faster and a lot nastier. The first game, we had four or five fights. I'm sitting there going 'I've never really broken up a real fight until that point.' I'm as green as can be, thinking 'What is this? What did I get myself into?' The next game brought the same stuff and it just kept coming and coming and coming. That's the way the East Coast Hockey League was back in the late 1990s. I was absolutely scared for my life going 'what did I get into?'

USAH: And now all of the rough stuff is your favorite part of games?

That is the best part of the hockey game for me. Obviously the calls are fine and I love being on the ice, but when the games get a little gnarly and nasty is when I tend to shine. That's where your heart starts racing and it's time to put the work boots on and tighten them up tight. That's exactly what I'm looking for, those games where that whistle blows and you've got guys trying to one-up the other. If it's a little scrap here or a little stick work here, that's exactly what I love to get involved with.

USAH: How tough is it to keep up with all of it?

Your workouts are harder and longer. You are doing more to keep yourself in shape. This past summer, I did something I had never done before and hired a power skating instructor. I worked with the power skating instructor twice a week all summer long, just to improve my skating stride so I can stay up with these 18, 19 and 20-year-old kids that are absolutely flying up and down the ice. If I don't do that, I've got somebody biting my heels, trying to knock me off of my position. It's a lifestyle change, and if you want to stay here, this is what you've got to do.

USAH: To be honored in Minnesota for your 1,000th game, what was that like?

Absolutely unbelievable. I still can't believe what I've accomplished and how Minnesota, the team and the organization, responded with how they treated me. They treated me top-notch. They are true to what their campaign slogan is and giving back to Minnesota. It was interesting talking to the Wild about this event and they were all on board and couldn't believe that I picked them to have my 1,000th game. For them to say 'Hey, you're a home-born guy, you picked us, that's great, we appreciate it.' that says a lot.

USAH: What does it mean for you to be the first Minnesotan to do it?

 I'm kind of in shock about it. We have so many officials that come through Minnesota that are very, very good. Those guys have that same desire and they want to be home. You work in the state high school hockey tournament, that's an elite group of guys. You're working with WCHA, Big Ten, (NCAA) Division II, Division III hockey, but you're afforded the luxury of being home and able to do that. I envy those guys to be able to have the family life. I'm not going to lie, it's tough on me and my family. I'm gone. I've missed so much stuff with my three kids. I'm missing hockey games and tournaments, birthday parties, everything. It is tough but at the end of the day, I have the summers off where those guys that are working in Minnesota and working in the high levels, they have 9-to-5 jobs and I don't.

USAH: You mentioned all the officiating talent in Minnesota. As hard as it is to get into the NHL as a player, openings for officials are even fewer. What does that say to you?

 It's special. I still look at that from the day I got hired to where I'm at, and I'm like 'wow, that is one tough nut to crack.'

USAH: How much does fate play a role in getting a job officiating in the NHL?

You create your own fate. There’s luck involved and there’s timing involved. You got there for a reason.

USAH: What is the best part about what you do?

 Going out on that ice, the lights are off, my heart is racing, the national anthems are playing and it feels like my first game. It's the game itself out there with all those guys and the talent that is on that ice. That's the best part of the game.

USAH: What advice do you have for aspiring officials?

Go for it. Set your goals and dreams and just go for it. It's a good life lesson too. There are things you can achieve and there are things that you won't achieve. It's how you rebound after you don't make it or you do make it and it tells you what kind of a person you are and what your character is in life.

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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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