Every year, USA Hockey celebrates the hockey communities achievements, passion and love for the sport through the annual Hockey Weekend Across America campaign. This year, the Southern Professional Hockey League (SPHL) teamed up with USA Hockey to celebrate young USA hockey officials.
This past weekend, youth USA hockey officials were invited to participate in the Meet the SPHL Officials program in Evansville, Indiana and Peoria, Illinois. The program gave the opportunity to young, grassroots officials to meet SPHL officials before the Evansville Thunderbolts and Peoria Rivermen games and learn about the developmental career path of an official.
“Overall it was a truly great experience. I really appreciated the opportunity to meet the higher level officials and their advisor,” said participant Harrison ‘Scout’ Maxheimer of Peoria. “It showed me that I have the ability to make this into a possible career.”
In addition to speaking with the league’s officials, the participants dressed in their officiating gear and skated out onto the ice for the pregame national anthem alongside the SPHL officials. The participants got a firsthand feel for the pregame atmosphere and officiating a professional game.
“I had a lot of fun,” said Maxheimer. “Thank you so much for the opportunity to be a part of this event.”
While the program gave the participants inspiration and insight into a potential career as an official, the SPHL officials were humbly reminded of their own beginnings in the industry. For some league officials, it brought back memories of when they were in the participants’ shoes.
“For myself growing up in metro Detroit, there were a handful of guys I’ve looked up to in the sports industry. Now, I work alongside many of these same people,” said Chad Fuller, a SPHL official. “Hopefully this positive experience with the league’s officials can motivate the participants to work towards the highest levels of hockey possible.”
Like the young participants in the event, the SPHL officials are continuously developing their own officiating skills and look to move up to the next level of play. With the support of USA Hockey, the SPHL officials are educated and trained in how to improve their officiating skills.
“The SPHL is a step in USA Hockey’s officials development program. The officials are identified at local areas and participate in summer development camps throughout the country,” said Andy McElman, Vice President of Hockey Operations. McElman is also responsible for officiating in the SPHL.
“From these camps, USA Hockey draws the officials that have the dedication and commitment to improve,” continued McElman. “They go through various levels of hockey to get the chance to continue their development at the professional level of hockey here in the SPHL.”
USA Hockey holds camps, classes, video tutorials and seminars every year to provide training and education on the fundamental skills that officials need to succeed. In order to complete registration, all USA Hockey officials are required to attend a classroom seminar every year.
“We continue to work together with USA Hockey to bring a competitive environment for the officials to excel and showcase their strengths in officiating,” said McElman. “We would like to thank USA Hockey with their continued support with funneling their perspective top officials through our league.”
To get to the SPHL, East Coast Hockey League, American Hockey League or higher, the officials must develop on a similar path. The Meet the Officials program allowed the next generation of officials to be educated on this path and understand what it takes to reach a competitive level of hockey and officiating.
“It was great to see the young officials encompassing the drive my fellow coworkers and I have to continue leveling up in the hockey world,” said Zane Stout, SPHL official. “Most people do not realize officials progress into juniors and professional leagues just as players do; mostly by scouting and word of mouth.”
Although Hockey Week Across America has come to its end, both the youth participants and the SPHL officials will think back on this program and the memories it created. These types of programs nurture the love of hockey in young individuals and allow the current SPHL to pass along valuable advice and share their own personal experiences. The SPHL is proud to create these types of relationships and help inspire the next generation of hockey officials.
“One of the nicest moments of this Meet with the Officials program was the idea that I myself was in the younger officials shoes 10 years ago, meeting with ECHL referees,” said Stout. “I felt truly lucky to be in that position, have this opportunity and to tell my story.”