ST. LOUIS – Amber Fryklund grew up playing hockey in Hibbing, Minn. Like most young girls at the time, she had to play on boys’ teams. It wasn’t until she reached high school that she was able to suit up with other girls. That’s where her career took off.
A finalist for the Miss Minnesota Hockey award, Fryklund went on to play at Bemidji State University, where she became the program’s all-time leading scorer.
Still, any idea that there could be a career in the game after she hung up her competitive skates was little more than a pipe dream.
Yet here she is, almost 15 years later, sitting shoulder to shoulder with other dedicated coaches, most of them men, listening to presenters, taking pages of notes and talking hockey at the 2016 National Hockey Coaches Symposium.
Like her male counterparts, Fryklund is a dedicated hockey coach. And just like them, she has given up part of her all-too-short summer and paid her own money to come to St. Louis to earn her Level 5 coaching certification, the highest level in the USA Hockey system.
“Being here is something that I’ve always wanted to do,” said Fryklund, who is entering her sixth season as an assistant coach with her alma mater. “This is just another opportunity for me to get better as a person and a coach.”
She is one of 19 female coaches attending this year’s symposium. Over the past decade, the number of females in attendance has risen slowly. To date 86 female coaches have attained their Level 5 coaching certification, starting with Michigan coach Sue McDowell, who did it in 1995.
But with the number of women wrapping up their playing careers and entering the coaching ranks, those numbers are only going to increase.
“I think the goal for everyone involved in the game is continuous growth for females to get involved in events like this,” said Stephanie Wood, a former player at Northeastern University who is now the hockey director with the Islanders Hockey Club in North Andover, Mass. “The biggest piece of advice that I could give someone is that they just have to go out and do it. They have to take it upon themselves to promote their own development and growth.
“I know that when I come to an event like this that I’m going to be outnumbered, but you just have to get out and do it. With the support of USA Hockey is outstanding because they’re trying to promote people like me to get out and get involved more. Hopefully that will lead to more females wanting to do the same.”
With the start of the hockey season just around the corner, coaches are using their time here in St. Louis as motivation to return to their clubs and use what they’ve learned here to make players and coaches better in their respective areas.
“Hockey season has become a year round thing so I came here looking to just re-motivate myself again,” said Sarma Ozmen, a former University of Minnesota player who now coaches high school hockey in the state.
“I’ve been a head coach for almost eight years and I’m always looking for some new ideas to take in a different direction with my own coaching to become better.”
“One of my philosophies when you do something like this is to take something back. I feel like I have a whole booklet of things that I can take back,” added Fryklund. “All the coaches and presenters here have a really simple message and they’re all consistent. It’s been very powerful and educational.”
And while they may be outnumbered, all the women here said their male counterparts have treated them with respect and as peers in their pursuit to improve their craft.
“The hockey world is so small so it’s not been a big deal. A lot of us grew up playing boys hockey and you have to have a level of confidence where you’re willing to get engaged. It hasn’t been an issue at all,” said Melissa Pacific, who took the head coach at Exeter Prep School after graduating from The Ohio State University.
“Would I like to have seen a female speaker on the program, maybe, but we might not be there yet. … I think you’re going to see in the next six years more and more women here. And I’m ok with that. We’re just not there yet.”
None of the women here want to be labeled as trailblazers, pioneers or trendsetters. They are hockey coaches, first and foremost, and they are here for the same reason as their male counterparts. They want to become better coaches so they can improve hockey in their respective areas.
“I’m very thankful for the opportunity that I have right now. Growing up I would never have imagined that I could coach hockey for a living. I really enjoy my job and love what I do being around hockey every day and being able to impact student athletes. I think that’s the coolest part,” Fryklund said.
“I’m happy with where I’m at but I’m always striving to get better. I’d love to be a head coach someday. Hopefully that will happen but in the meantime I’m just trying to get better, learn more and continue to live the dream.”
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.