BOSTON, MA -- Those who read this column on a regular basis know I have been spreading the word on the mass exodus of experienced officials and the lack of new officials coming in to replace them.
Those that do come in are three to four years away from advancing into the advanced levels of hockey be it juniors, college, or the professional ranks.
Take this a step further: with the turnover rate for new officials at over 50 percent after the first year and 25 percent after two years, this creates a much bigger problem for the youth leagues.
The problem is that the skill set continues to flatline because we are constantly putting an effort into keeping the new officials, only to have them leave and the cycle starts right back over.
In some areas, the new officials are put into situations where they are working by themselves, creating even more tension with coaches and parents expecting them to get it right at the Mite and Squirt levels.
For some assignors and leagues that buy into secondary training, they also run into the problem of losing the officials after two years because retirements of the older officials are advancing a lot quicker. Players, coaches and parents are expecting a lot more out of the new officials sooner, creating a lot of pressure on those who advance. Burnout or stress has them second-guessing if this is something they want to continue.
Kevin Collins, an NHL linesman with over 2,000 league games, 296 Stanley Cup playoff games, and a 2017 USA Hockey Hall of Fame inductee, was the guest speaker at the Successful Advanced Officiating Symposium in Bloomington Minn., in July.
He set the tone immediately about the emergency level of officiating in the game in front of the 250 in attendance.
“Sitting idly by and watching the mass exodus of talented young whistleblowers could not only risk the next generation of promising officials, but could plunge the future of the game into uncertainty,” said Collins. “The past is positive, but the present and the future are not quite as rosy. Abuse by coaches and parents is taking its toll on young and old officials alike. This is not a regional issue, but a national one.”
To help stem the tide of officials leaving the game, Collins called on the 250 high-level officials in attendance at the symposium to take matters into their own hands by providing support to those just starting out in the game.
“I’m asking you to do your part to help save our game and the future of it,” Collins implored the crowd. “I’m asking you to take this message back to your local associations and convince your leagues to reach out to coaches and parents, and to hold them accountable for their actions.”
Kevin also stated “We need to protect their backs,” about hockey officials.
On a more positive note, we have just completed the first Women’s Officiating Experience Camp at the New England Sports Center in Marlboro, Mass. The camp had 16 women officials from across the East and Midwest, with the expectations to advance to higher levels of hockey.
The camp was sponsored by College Hockey America, New England Women’s Hockey Alliance, and USA Hockey Districts Massachusetts, New England, and New York.
Sjoukje Brown, the Central District Referee-in-Chief, was the Camp Instructor.
“The camp was a great opportunity for these women who took time out of their busy lives to improve their skills and the game of hockey,” said Brown.
More importantly, most of the participants who felt they were ready to advance did receive acceptance into the college and junior hockey leagues. The camp included Olympian and Collegiate officials such as Katie Guay. Guay officiated in the 2018 Olympics, and also became the first woman to ever officiate an NCAA Division 1 men’s hockey game.
“Camps like these for women’s officials have been long overdue, and I told the group to chase your dreams,” said Guay.
Bob DeGregorio, the Commissioner for the CHA and NEWHA, also spoke to the group, saying that by participating in camps like this, it will help grow the women’s officiating pool. He was very happy to see a large group of women at the inaugural camp and hopes they spread the word so it can grow and increase the pool of officials for the women’s game.
For those officials who are currently USA Hockey Registered or Members of National Ice Hockey Officials Association (NIHOA) who are interested in advancing to the junior and collegiate levels, there are several tournaments starting each April at the midget and junior level. These tournaments include secondary training on player safety, game management, and on-ice mechanics for all officiating systems.
After successful completion of these classes, you will added to the staff at the junior level to work in the United States Premier Hockey League and the Eastern Hockey League, which are the training leagues for the NCAA Division 1 Atlantic Hockey Association.
All the training is free of charge and if you are capable of meeting the requirements, I will also add you to the staff for College Hockey America, an NCAA Division 1 women’s hockey league and the following men’s leagues: the Division 2 Northeast-10 and the Division 3 New England Hockey Conference and the Massachusetts State Collegiate Athletic Conference.
For those interested, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Trainings starts with classroom training in May at the Foxboro (Mass.) Sports Center and at the Atlantic Hockey Association office in Winthrop, Mass.