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Pond Hockey Officials Keep The Peace From Safety Of Snowbank

By Harry Thompson, 02/11/17, 3:45PM MST

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In total there are 22 officials from 10 states, including some who came from as far away as New York and North Carolina.

EAGLE RIVER, Wis. -- The best kept secret in the world of USA Hockey officiating -- that is until now -- is that working the Labatt Blue USA Hockey Pond Hockey Championships may be the best gig in the business.

It's not just that the work is easy, which most will admit it is, especially compared to officiating a typical game. It's also a golden opportunity to hang around with fellow officials from around the country in a relatively low stress environment in one of the most iconic settings in all of hockey.

"Most of the officials who have done this before don't want to give it up. It takes a lot for one of them to miss coming here," said Steve Tatro, the referee-in-chief for the Minnesota District who has worked each of the previous 11 tournaments.

"This is a great opportunity for some of our older officials who may not get on the ice anymore but still have good skills and great judgment."

In total there are 22 officials from 10 states, including some who came from as far away as New York and North Carolina.

Still, every once in a great while new blood is introduced into the fraternity. This time around it's a pair of seasoned officials from Alaska, Tim Zobel and Mike Ashley. The pair made the eight-hour flight from Anchorage and then drove four hours from Minneapolis to be here in time for the puck to drop on Friday morning.

"I thought I'd be the oldest guy here [among the officiating staff], but I'm actually one of the young bucks," said Ashley, who proudly points out that he's from "the real Eagle River" as he shows off a T-shirt from the Anchorage suburb.

Standing on the snow bank, officials main job is to determine possession of the puck once it leaves the ice surface, which it does with some regularity, and to rule on goals. Most adult players who regularly play in this tournament are in it for the right reasons. They're here for the fun, the camaraderie and to return to their roots when many learned the game on local ponds and lakes.

"Basically we try to stay out of the way," Tatro said. He means that both figuratively and literally.

"Most of the time the players police themselves," Tatro said. "They're typically pretty respectful and are here for all the right reasons."

Of course there are those who still act as if it's the seventh game of the Stanley Cup finals and officials have to step in to keep the peace. But that's a rare occurrence out here.

"The temperature level is definitely dialed back, if you know what I mean," said Zobel, who added that the 30 degree temperatures were relatively balmy compared to what he left behind in Anchorage.

"These guys are serious about the game but they have the right perspective. They really make it an enjoyable environment."

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Harry Thompson is the Editor of USA Hockey Magazine

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On-and-Off Ice Chatter in Adult Hockey

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Athletes and coaches across all levels and varieties of sports talk about the importance of communication, and breakdowns in communication are often offered up as excuses for why a team is struggling.

You might not think about communication much in the context of adult recreational hockey, but it can be just as important in that realm as it is at the highest levels of hockey.

Josh Clark plays on two adult hockey teams in the Twin Ponds league in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. He’s the team captain for the Buzzards and an alternate captain for the Firebirds, meaning he has plenty of experience with the finer points of communication.

We tapped into his experiences to shed some light on the importance of communication in adult hockey leagues.

On-Ice Communication Between Teammates

This is perhaps the most fundamental level of communication, and anyone who has played hockey – or any team sport, really – knows that, in the flow of a game, talking is critical.

Hockey is a team sport. It isn’t bowling,” Clark says. “It’s crucial that your teammates let you know what is going on around them. You can only see so much at any given moment and you need to be as aware of your surroundings as possible to make a good decision, even when you don’t have the puck.”

Call for the puck when you’re open. “Drop! Cycle! Boards!” Let your teammates know if they have pressure or room to skate. Yell when you’re coming off for a change. There should be lots of talk on the ice.

Clark plays goalie. He can count a number of different ways in which he communicates with teammates – and that doesn’t just mean with words.

“I’m constantly talking to my defenders both verbally and non-verbally,” Clark says. “From raising my arm on an icing call, to slapping my stick on the ice to signal that a penalty is over, calling out screens, letting guys know that they have attackers bearing down on them and they need to make a play on a puck as soon as they get to it, and letting guys know there is an attacker creeping on the back post, communication is absolutely critical between teammates on the ice.”

Encourage on-ice chatter from your teammates. You’ll often find the team that’s talking the most – and loudest – is playing better.

Communication with On-Ice Officials

As someone in a leadership position on multiple teams, Clark often finds himself talking to referees for explanations about calls. There is a right way and a wrong way to communicate with officials, he says.

”Well, everyone knows ‘that guy’ in the league – the guy that is always yelling at the refs and screaming about every single call,” Clark says. “Don’t be him.”

He says he had a coach in junior high who made players address referees calmly and by using the word, “sir.” That mentality has carried over to his adult hockey days.

“I know that refs and goalies have a different relationship than (refs) do with players, but I’ve ingrained this into how I play and I’m on a first name basis with at least half the refs in my adult league,” Clark says. “If there is an issue with a call, it’s best to politely ask the ref why he made the call that he did.”

Also, knowing when to pick your battles is important.

“Don’t dig your hole any deeper,” Clark says. “Refs are human, too, and if you develop a good or bad relationship with them, you will have appropriate consequences.”

Off-Ice Communication Within the League

There’s no one perfect way to communicate things like league meetings, schedules and fees. Whatever works for a team or league is fine – as long as everyone is on the same page.

“I run my A team and we have a group text message where game times and locations, as well as when league fees are due and things like that are disseminated,” Clark says. “The other team I play for has a Facebook page, and the schedule is posted on there. Guys let the captain know if they are playing or not.”

Clark says he prefers either of those two methods to e-mail because he says he has found that “not everybody checks their e-mail every day.”

Almost as important as knowing when to communicate, though, is not bombarding players with too much information.

“Usually sending out messages once a week about upcoming games is good,” Clark says. “The team I run that does the group message doesn’t really hang out after games, so that’s how info is dispersed.”

That said, a lot of the best off-ice communication – as many adult hockey players know – comes after the game in a less-than-formal setting.

“The other team I play for is definitely a ‘beer league’ team,” Clark says. “We hang out after nearly every game and talk about roster moves and subs a