ST. LOUIS -- One of the most celebrated players in USA Hockey history, Keith Tkachuk has enjoyed more than his share of accomplishments and accolades.
But it was what took place earlier this summer in downtown Buffalo, New York, that may mean more than his 538 NHL career goals, his 2002 Olympic silver medal or his 2011 induction into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame.
It was on this June evening at the First Niagara Center that Tkachuk heard his son Matthew's name called as the sixth overall pick by the Calgary Flames in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft. And before this proud papa was finished embracing his son, he heard the names of four other St. Louis natives called.
With the selection of goaltender Joseph Woll in the third round, six local kids were snatched up by NHL teams. They all played youth hockey for the AAA Blues at Hardee’s Iceplex in nearby Chesterfield, Mo.
"To have six St. Louis kids picked was incredible," said Tkachuk, who played here from 2000 to 2007. "It was a great experience and hopefully we can keep building off of this."
It was further proof that St. Louis is quickly becoming a hockey hotbed to rival any market around the country.
Or as Chris Zimmerman, the president and CEO of the St. Louis Blues, likes to put it, this is the "Heartland of Hockey."
This week nearly 400 coaches have made the pilgrimage to the "Heartland of Hockey" to attend the 2016 National Hockey Coaches Symposium. And on Thursday night's opening session they heard from a host of speakers who trumpeted this town's successes, including an all-star panel of former Blues players, including Tkachuk, Chris Pronger, Jamal Mayers, Rob Ramage and Kelly Chase, all of whom have played key role in the development of future stars.
For these Blues alumni, and many others, they have parlayed their careers with the Blues with a lifelong love affair with the community, and have dedicated countless hours working with local youth hockey associations.
Tkachuk, a native of Melrose, Mass., the pace of life and the quality schools made it an easy choice of where to settle down after wrapping up his career in 2010.
"We love it here," he said. "We knew early on [in my time with the Blues] that this is where we wanted to be. It's been great for me and my family."
When Larry Boyd talks about the growth of hockey in the greater St. Louis area, it's hard not getting caught up in the moment. His enthusiasm is infectious. And who can blame him. As the president of the Missouri Hockey Association for almost 10 years, Boyd has had both a front row seat and played a vital role in how far the sport has come in the Gateway City.
And bringing USA Hockey's marquee coaching event to his hometown makes this long-time coach swell with pride.
"This is awesome," Boyd said. "To have so many dedicated coaches here taking the time away from their jobs and their families to be here just shows their dedication to their craft and to the game."
And it's that same dedication to the game that has led former Blues players to continue to give back to hockey, sharing their knowledge and their passion for the sport with the next generation of St. Louis players.
"We have a town where a lot of athletes when they decide to leave the game they find this community to be a great place to live. They get involved with youth hockey not only to develop their children but other children as well," Boyd said.
"They continue to grow young talent because they love it. They love passing on that knowledge. It's just awesome to see."
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.