In some places, getting to the rink is tougher than anything a kid will face on the ice.
There, hockey is a respite from the inner-city’s mean streets and sketchy subways. Worries disappear, if only temporarily, and love of the game lifts young players into a world where the puck is all that matters. For them, hockey means even more than you might imagine, but the participation barriers include far more than cost and accessibility.
Organizations like the Ed Snider Youth Hockey Foundation have been battling those barriers for decades. So, too, has USA Hockey and the NHL. All three were part of the recent Willie O’Ree Skills Weekend in Philadelphia, an event that included on-ice sessions at the Laura Sims Skate House and the Flyers’ Wells Fargo Center, in addition to off-ice programming at the National Liberty Museum and an Outward Bound team-building session.
USA Hockey’s Rich Hansen was there, as was Gump Whiteside, one of USA Hockey’s Atlantic District American Development Model coordinators, who helped run on-ice skills training.
“A lot of those kids have never been out of their ZIP code, but they have just as much passion for hockey as any travel hockey player,” said Hansen, an ADM regional manager. “It’s a great aspect of the game that most people don’t see enough. And I can’t say enough about the volunteers who give so much passion and energy to these inner-city programs.”
Off the ice, Hansen heard young players’ stories of daunting challenges, some common, like insufficient ice availability, and some uncommon.
“There were kids who, at 10 years old, were riding the subway by themselves, trying to get to the rink. There were kids who faced all kinds of obstacles, just because they wanted to play hockey,” said Hansen. “It was an eye-opener.”
Willie O’Ree, the NHL’s first black player, has heard countless stories like those during his appearances at hockey events throughout North America, and he lived them during his playing days, which is why he pours his energy into helping grassroots inner-city hockey programs each year.
“Everybody looks up to Willie,” said Hansen. “He’s such a great ambassador for the sport.”
And while O’Ree was the namesake headliner in Philadelphia, the kids were the stars. Fifty-five of them were selected to participate as a reward for outstanding effort on the ice and in the classroom. The skills weekend provided them with a memorable training and bonding opportunity. It also provided inner-city hockey cognoscenti from the United States and Canada with a forum to share ideas. For many programs, the need for more support – more ice availability, more funding, more awareness – is especially acute, and events like these help bring more attention to the cause.
“There’s a need and a desire to give these players legitimate hockey development opportunities, not just six weeks here or there,” said Hansen. “These inner-city programs want to develop players who can compete at the highest levels, too. So, events like these are important, where the NHL is involved and they can strengthen those relationships.”
It’s an off-season that continues to be full of changes, reactionary and planned, as all of us in the USA Hockey Officiating Department forge forward in the new normal. Our efforts are consistently focused on ensuring safety, fun and development for players, coaches and officials.
One issue that continues to arise is the abuse of officials and the effects it has on retention. To counter and help improve the environment, USA Hockey’s rules sub-committee has been focused and committed to solutions.
This sub-committee was established to define and recommend programs to confront this problem. As a result of this, a first step was taken at the recent Annual Congress to amend the Zero Tolerance Policy. Several proposals were made and adopted by the Board of Directors to constructively confront this problem.
These changes strongly recommend things like game officials introducing themselves to the coach during warm-ups in order to start the communication process and set some guidelines for in-game communication.
The parents/spectators section was amended to clearly state the behavioral expectations of this group. Another strong recommendation added to this section was to establish a parent/spectator monitor by each local youth hockey team for all games. Ideally, this monitor will address and de-escalate parent/spectator behavior before it impacts the game and the officials have to stop play.
Also added, a reminder to administrators that they are responsible for taking any appropriate disciplinary action towards parents/spectators that are removed from a game as a result of a violation of the Zero Tolerance Policy.
Navigating New Norms
As we all still grapple with the effects of the pandemic, the Officiating Program has been working to develop effective ways to fulfill our educational responsibilities when it comes to the annual registration process. To that end, the only process that provides educational value and a safe environment is with virtual seminars. A format and curriculum was developed and approved by the District RIC’s. This was distributed to all of the District RIC’s for implementation as they see fit. Due to the many different and ever-changing restrictions around the country, if the situation arises where in-person seminars can be held then the District RIC can also schedule them as needed. The Virtual Seminar Program is the best solution for this season. As situations change, the Officials Section will revisit this program for all future seasons.
Every Tuesday, the Officiating Education Program will present an hour-long webinar on various topics of interest and importance to not only USA Hockey’s officials but the entire membership. These panel discussions will cover topics such as abuse and zero tolerance, communication, player safety, as well as items such as game management and positioning within the three recognized USA Hockey Officiating systems. Panelists will include some of the top officials in the country and other experts from the hockey world whose goal will be to inform, entertain and encourage the USA Hockey community to learn more about officiating.
Getting officials from their first year to their third season is a key focus for the Officiating Education Program. Helping officials understand the basics of the craft and giving them a supportive resource is what the Mentor Project is all about. USA Hockey is helping local Officials Associations put together the framework where a mentor gets matched with a new official and works with them not only in their first month or second, but is a constant resource for the new official throughout their first couple of seasons. Learning about how to read the rule book, navigate the challenges of getting assignments and become a proficient official are all goals of the mentor project.
Again, we hope everyone is safe and sane as we prepare for a different landscape of hockey – but we are excited to welcome it, and you, back to the game.
See you at the rink!
Tag(s): ADM Features