SOCHI, Russia - Everything off the ice, from time zone to jersey crest, has changed for the 2014 U.S. Women's Olympic Team, but head coach Katey Stone has delivered a message to her team in practice this week: Nothing has changed on the ice.
Looking to ride a wave of pre-Olympic exhibition game victories, Team USA's head coach kept her team's collective foot on the gas pedal in the second to last team practice before Saturday's opening game against Finland.
"The last three sessions have been really good," Stone said. "The kids are getting plenty of rest and are excited. They're ready to get this thing going."
The high-tempo practice has become the norm for the U.S. players and Lyndsey Fry said the team doesn't see any reason to change the plan now that they are in Sochi.
"It's what we've been doing for the last couple months," she said. "We're going to stay consistent with how we've been practicing. (Small area games) are great and it's what we're going to keep doing."
Stone utilized two cross-ice games in Thursday's practice, continuing a trend that she says she started in the fall as a way to spark her team.
"We went to condensing what we were doing," she said. "It's made a huge difference in our communication. You have to talk, you just have to. It's allowed our kids to use each other and rely on each other."
Russia President Vladimir Putin toured the Olympic facilities here this week and twice encountered U.S. women's players and staff.
Captain Meghan Duggan met Putin in the athlete village recreation center and said the quick meet and greet was memorable.
"He shook our hands and said ‘Nice to meet you,'" she said. "It kind of caught us off guard. It was one of those right place, right time kind of things."
Duggan said Putin asked athletes in the area in what sport they were competing and from what country the came.
"He walked in with his entourage and a bunch of media people. We got to shake his hand. It’s not every day that you get to meet the president of any country, so we were lucky to be there," she said.
USAHockey.com will produce a series of webisodes during the Olympics that will feature post-game analysis, Q&As and other video features from around Sochi.
The first episode is live and embedded below. Check back often for new episodes and tweet to the show with your feedback and questions using #USAHPostgame.
Harry Thompson is running a blog from Sochi and he kicked things off with an update on the travels from Colorado to Russia. Check back often for exclusive updates and coverage
No one has ever said that officiating, and especially officiating ice hockey, was easy. Rule knowledge, communication skills, fitness, skating and a natural presence are just some of the skills necessary to be a successful official. Some possess more of these skills and those are the officials who advance to higher levels. But regardless of the level achieved or the skill set the official possesses, the one quality that should be equal among every official is a high level of integrity.
The national official staff members, along with our volunteer referees-in-chief and local supervisors, have heard growing concerns over a decreasing level of integrity among our youth hockey officials. It’s sometimes said that no one is holding them accountable. A portion of this perception is likely a typical “blame the officials” mentality, but some anecdotal evidence suggests there is also some merit to this concern. That’s alarming to USA Hockey, as it affects the credibility of our entire program, along with every member it represents. The blunt truth is this: even one official who isn’t on the up and up can and will damage the credibility of all officials who do take pride in the integrity of their work.
Whether we like it or not, officials are under a microscope, and by the nature of the business, are held to a very high standard. When we signed up for this officiating gig, we committed ourselves to represent the game of hockey, USA Hockey, our local group of officials and ourselves as people of integrity who accept the responsibility and guardianship of enforcing the rules in a fair and consistent manner. Most importantly, we must remember that the game is bigger than all of us and that the game itself is what we serve. Those who lose sight of that not only compromise the competitive fairness of the games, they also make life more difficult for all of the officials by damaging the credibility of the officiating community.
An example of this type of unacceptable behavior occurred last season. A Level 2 adult official tended to work his games with a chip on his shoulder. He often created confrontation with coaches, alienated his younger partners with inaccurate advice and disregarded their help in attempting to get some calls and rule applications right. Even though the help they were providing was correct, he chose to maintain his incorrect position that affected the outcome of several games. He also tended to identify certain players and single them out for various infractions and/or on-ice lectures as a means of emphasizing his authority.
Once the trends were identified, concerns were voiced by several parents and coaches to the local assigner and supervisor, who acknowledged they had never seen the official’s work, but would keep throwing him out there working the same teams and levels that had expressed concerns regarding his attitude. This included intentionally assigning him a playoff game involving the coach who was the most vocal in expressing concerns. This official was then instructed to “throw the coach out if he says anything.”
That playoff game went without a hitch – a tight 2-1 game with a couple of close off-side plays and maybe an icing or two missed. In the post-game dressing room, the official in question, in the presence of his partners and the officials scheduled to work the next game, said, “It’s always a great day when you can make one or both of the coaches mad. It’s too bad the white team coach didn’t want to play along today.” The partners sat there in silence until finally a 12-year-old Level 1 official who was working the next game said, “I don’t think that’s right. We’re not supposed to bait coaches.”
The official got dressed quickly and left the room without saying another word. Kind of ironic that it was the innocent 12-year-old that seemed to “get it” and instill a sense of accountability among those in the room. Imagine how any 12-year-old player feels on the ice when they see the official(s) displaying an attitude that is simply not to the standard the game deserves. And yes, more often than not, they can see through those who do not have the level of integrity expected.
Fortunately, these types of officials are few and far between. But they do exist and to simply stick our heads in the sand and not address the concern is irresponsible. Each of us, as officials, has an obligation to behave in a professional manner at all times and take our role seriously. We have made a commitment to approach each game with the understanding that the game is about the players and we should be invisible until the players require us to appear as a result of infractions that occur. Respect is a two-way street and simply putting on the sweater with the USA Hockey crest suggests respect is warranted, but only if supported by your actions.
USA Hockey has an obligation to create a non-threatening environment that promotes respect for officials and an opportunity for officials to improve through education and evaluation. USA Hockey does this through playing rules, points of emphasis, zero tolerance policies and comprehensive education programs for officials, coaches, parents and players.
In return, the game expects USA Hockey officiating members to bring a professional image to every contest and an attitude that creates a positive environment and makes the game better. We realize everyone makes mistakes – it’s part of the game. However, laziness or unprofessional behavior is unacceptable and being creative in rule enforcement and not holding players/coaches accountable for infractions will only make the next team of officials’ jobs much more difficult and set them up for failure.
The reality is that the game official must always hold themselves to the highest level of integrity and behavior both on and off the ice. Maybe that’s fair, or maybe not, but it is the expectation we are required to meet.
As we head into the 2015-16 season, ask yourself if you are willing to meet that expectation. If the answer is yes, welcome back and we look forward to a great season.