The 12th annual USA Hockey Disabled Festival will take place Thursday through Sunday (April 7-10) in Michigan. Featuring a record 90 teams and 1,139 players, the event will be held at Fraser Hockeyland Arena in Fraser, Michigan, with additional games being played at the St. Clair Shores Civic Arena in nearby St. Clair Shores, Michigan.
The Festival encompasses all four disciplines of disabled hockey: deaf/hard of hearing, special hockey, sled hockey, and standing/amputee hockey. The event will feature youth and adult sled tournaments; special hockey games; a three-game series with two blind hockey teams; and two warrior divisions for standing/amputee teams comprised of service members who have been injured or disabled during service.
The sixth Toyota-USA Hockey Sled Hockey National Championship will also take place during the Festival and include several members of the U.S. National Sled Hockey Team competing against one another as members of their respective club sled hockey teams. The championship comes just a week after the U.S. National Sled Hockey closed its 2015-16 campaign by claiming the 2016 IPC Pan-Pacific Championship at HARBORCENTER in Buffalo, New York.
The largest disabled hockey event of its kind, the Disabled Festival continues to expand over the years. Last year, the event set records with 71 teams and over 1,000 players. The inaugural event in 2005 included 24 teams and nearly 300 players.
USA Hockey, in partnership with FASTHockey, will provide live streaming coverage of the 2016 USA Hockey Disabled Festival games taking place at Hockeyland Arena, including the Toyota-USA Hockey Sled Hockey National Championship.
Fans wishing to follow all 2016 USA Hockey Disabled Festival action can do so online here. Fans interested to follow the Toyota-USA Hockey National Championship can do so online at Nationals.USAHockey.com and also via the Toyota-USA Hockey National Championships app, available for Android and iOS devices. The Toyota-USA Hockey National Championships app is also available in the Apple App Store and on Google Play.
NOTES: For a complete schedule of the 2016 USA Hockey Disabled Festival, click here ... The mission of the Festival is to provide a fun and exciting weekend of hockey in a grand event as well as promote and grow disabled hockey throughout the country ... The 2017 USA Hockey Disabled Festival is set for April 6-9 in San Jose, California.
Many sports across the board have begun to see a decline in their number of officials. USA Hockey is no different, with numbers lagging slightly behind player growth.
With that in mind, USA Hockey has made a particularly concerted effort over the last couple of years to incentivize officials to stick around.
Not surprisingly that was the main topic discussed at the annual USA Hockey's Winter Meetings, according to National Referee-in-Chief Dave LaBuda.
“I'd say the overriding tone of the meeting was us talking about retention and trying to come up with ways in which to address that particular issue,” LaBuda said. “It's a very complex situation. There are a number of different factors that go into why an official decides not to stay registered. We can only address a certain number of those factors and the rest we have to hope fix themselves in some way.”
In an effort to be proactive, USA Hockey has implemented sweeping change in the registration process for existing officials.
It started by revamping the registration fees, and while some of the other minutiae is rather hard to digest, the most notable change is the reduction of registration requirements for officials that reach the Level 3 or Level 4 status.
As soon as an official has obtained Level 3 or Level 4 status for three consecutive years, they will become eligible to apply for tenured status. In order to attain that tenured status, officials must also attend what USA Hockey is calling an advanced officiating symposium.
“It's designed to encourage people to continue their level of registration and to advance to a higher level of registration,” LaBuda said. “Just getting them to climb that ladder and try to attain the highest level of registration will make them better officials, and in turn, improve the game.”
Essentially, USA Hockey wants to send a message to its officials, making it clear that their time is important to the organization.
“We understand that people's time nowadays is becoming tighter and tighter,” LaBuda said. “We wanted to make sure that we made the entire process as efficient as possible from a time standpoint.”
It seems to be working so far as USA Hockey has been able to stabilize its registration numbers over the last few years, according to LaBuda.
“We are starting to see some movement in that retention area,” LaBuda said. “It seems like every sport is experiencing a critical loss of officials to work their sport. We are hoping that these changes in the registration process will help us retain more officials down the road. It’s been a positive step in the right direction so far.”
No one wants to see anyone get hurt on the ice. As officials, it’s our job to make sure players, coaches and fans are in a safe (and fun) environment.
But even then, there is only so much we can do to ensure that safety. Luckily, the responsibility isn’t solely ours. New safety initiatives and focuses at USA Hockey have helped cradle on-going efforts to ensure the safest possible environment for everyone involved in the game.
We caught up with Kevin Margarucci, USA Hockey’s manager of player safety, to hear what’s being done to keep the game, and everyone involved in it, safer.
Q: What are some of the new initiatives that USA Hockey has implemented pertaining to overall player safety?
Kevin Margarucci: Safety is our top priority at USA Hockey and we are always working on ways to make the game safer for everyone involved, both on and off the ice. One of the significant changes coming next season is an update to our concussion management program.
In short, for a player suspected of having a concussion, USA Hockey will require a return to play document signed by a physician. Some states already require that as a return to play standard, but many don’t. In those states where that isn't a requirement, a parent could just go up to a coach and say, 'Yeah. We went to the doctor. He's fine.' That's it. We don't necessarily know if they ever got evaluated. As the national governing body, we felt it was important to have a consistent return to play standard across the country.
Q: Body checking has always been a hot button issue. What are the current standards for body checking at the youth level?
Margarucci: At the 12U level and below, the standard is body contact during games, with legal body checking during games being allowed at the 14U level and above. Our emphasis is on teaching kids that giving a body check and receiving a body check is a skill. We really want to put an emphasis on that and emphasize the progression from body contact into body checking. That said, while body checking is not allowed at the 12U level in games, it’s important that coaches teach body checking during practice at 12U so that the kids are prepared for the next level.
Q: How important of a role do officials play in how they patrol body checking during games?
Margarucci: Officials play a very important role and it really is critical that our on-ice officials enforce the USA Hockey standard of play in all areas of the game, including body contact and body checking.
That said, the onus is just not on officials. It’s important that our coaches and parents understand, teach and support the USA Hockey standard of play. We need to continue to educate all stakeholders involved in the game about the standard of play and ensure that respect is a central mindset in how we play, coach, officiate and administer the game.
Q: Obviously these kids are watching the NHL on TV. How important is it to teach kids that mimicking some of the hits they see from their idols on TV isn't necessarily the best way to go about it at the youth level?
Margarucci: The good news is that all of hockey, including the NHL, is working to eliminate dangerous hits and plays. The size and strength of players in the NHL is much different than youth hockey and the game is extremely fast which can result in some significant collisions. It’s important for youth hockey players (and coaches, parents, officials and fans) to learn what is acceptable and unacceptable in terms of body contact/body checking and to know there are things they may see at the NHL level that are not appropriate in youth hockey.
Q: Can you tell us about your involvement with the Concussion Legacy Foundation?
Margarucci: Sure. There's a relatively new initiative through the Concussion Legacy Foundation that we’ve supported called Team Up, Speak Up. It’s focus is to let players know it is OK to, and that they should, speak up for a teammate who may have a concussion and report to a coach, parent, doctor or athletic trainer. At the end of the day it is a simple and straight forward program that can have a significant impact and we’re happy to be involved