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The Key to a Strong Start in Games and Practices

By Dave Pond, 09/07/16, 11:45AM MDT


As coaches, we like to emphasize the importance of a strong start to both practices and games.

“Let’s come out of the gates flying!”

“Be ready to go on the first shift!”

“Let’s start practice with a high pace, high energy!”

But when the puck is dropped, have you done all you can do as a coach to set the table for a strong start?

“The key is a good, solid dynamic warmup,” said Pete Friesen, the head trainer and strength and conditioning coach for the Carolina Hurricanes. “That means incorporating movement in each exercise, and integrating components that make your muscles contract, elevate your heart rate, increase your body temperature.”

Additionally, a good dynamic warm-up will help your neurological system begin firing and deepen your breathing, so you’re entire body is ready to compete.

“This is where dynamic warm-ups differ from a more traditional approach,” added Mike Boyle, head strength and conditioning coach of the U.S. Women’s National Team.

“A dynamic warm-up is not a jog to warm up, or a long, seated stretching session,” Boyle said. “It’s a combination of moving stretches compared to old long holds. Exercises that might be viewed by older athletes as calisthenics, and those that might best be described as a track drill or speed drill, like skipping.”

In preparing the Hurricanes for games and practices, Friesen incorporates both traditional stretches and dynamic warm-ups.

“As trainers, this is our opportunity to set the stage for our team’s upcoming practice or game,” he said. “So, we develop these routines not only to prevent injuries, but to maximize each player’s genetic potential for athletic development, too.” 

Here’s what a typical hockey-focused dynamic warmup looks like:

Start with traditional passive stretching exercises, focusing especially on the ankles, knees, hips, shoulders and back muscles, which all play key roles in on-ice movement.

Next, activate the key muscles, including the glutes, lower abs, lower back, shoulders and neck.

Finally, focus on activities that will increase your players’ core temperature and fire up their nervous systems.

During warm-ups, Friesen and his staff keep a watchful eye over the entire team, handing out encouragement and positive affirmation to ensure that each player’s movements – and attitude – is where it needs to be.

Another tip? Music, with a good, strong beat – it helps break the silence while keeping players (of any age or experience level) in rhythm during their warm-up routine.

Here are a few specific exercises Friesen likes to incorporate into the Hurricanes’ dynamic warm-ups:

Waiters Bow

The key to this passive stretching exercise is to stretch far enough that you engage your hamstrings, without forcing your spine into action. All rotation and movement should come from the hips.

Stand tall, with your hands clasped behind your back.

Slowly tilt forward, using your hips only. Keep your spine and hands still.

When you feel a good hamstring stretch, stop and hold for several seconds.

Using only your hips, return to an upright position.

Hip Bridging

This activation exercise offers multiple benefits – it’s a core strengthener and flexibility drill that will do wonders for your back, hips, glutes and hamstrings at the same time.

Lie on your back, with your feet apart no wider than your hips.

Keep your feet on the ground, and slide your feet as close to your butt as you can. The closer they are, the harder the exercise will be.

With your arms at your sides, pull your shoulders together, and closer to the floor. (This will help you isolate your core.)

Engage your glutes, and lift your hips to the ceiling. (Remember, don’t use your arms or hands to help lift, and don’t let your legs get outside your hips.)

Hold for several breaths, then lower your hips to the floor again.


One of the most underrated exercises out there, burpees engage a wide array of muscles while getting your heart and breathing going. There are multiple variations of burpees out there, but here’s the basic version:

Begin in a standing position, and lower your body into a squat. Make sure your feet are shoulder-length apart.

From a squat, with your hands on the ground, kick your feet back into a push-up position.

Do a single push-up, then kick your feet forward, so you’re back in a squat position.

Jump straight up, out of a squat, into a standing position. That’s one complete rep.

Make sure your movements are fluid, and that each step blends into the next. The faster you can perform a burpee, the more aerobic benefits you’ll experience.

Remember, we can’t expect our players to come out flying if we are not incorporating dynamic warm-ups into our practice and pre-game plans. Make it a point to emphasize not just warm-ups this season, but off-ice training in general to better develop our athletes and maximize performance.

For more resources, check out USA Hockey’s age-appropriate dryland training materials and download the award-winning USA Hockey Mobile Coach App for practice plans, skills manuals, videos and more.

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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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